Monthly Archives: January 2021

Still just going through the motions

Defra is currently consulting on introducing a ban on urea, used by farmers as a fertiliser. Government estimates that doing this would cut UK ammonia emissions by 8%. The problem is that if we stop using urea, the population of the UK won’t in reality eat less. So to keep them fed we’ll either import more, or replace the urea with ammonium nitrate fertilisers.

So what would happen is that the UK would stop importing urea (because we don’t produce it here). This would probably lead to a slight drop in the world market price and the surplus would soon be snapped up. (Indeed some countries still subsidise their farmers to use it. India and China among them) At the same time farmers in the UK would end up competing for ammonium nitrate (which we do produce in this country but it’s still sold at the world market price) and would end up paying more.

So the net result would be that whilst UK ammonia emissions might drop, world ammonia emissions would stay the same and UK farmers would pick up the bill for more expensive fertilisers. Farmers would be asked to spend money for no real purpose.
Alternatively UK farmers would end up producing less and the UK consumer would eat more imported food, creating extra food miles and still not reducing world urea emissions.

The problem is that we have politicians around the world and of all complexions looking for a quick ‘hit’ that shows ‘they are doing something’. The fact that in reality their actions are irrelevant or even counter-productive is rarely pointed out to them.

One underlying problem is that lobby groups demand a ‘sustainable agriculture’ but how can you have a sustainable agriculture unless you’re trying to feed a ‘sustainable population?’

So let’s look at how, for example, a dairy farm works. We feed cows on grass and concentrate feeds largely made up of waste products.

Some examples of these waste products are;-

Rapeseed meal, this is what’s left when you have crushed rape (canola) to produce the cooking oil.

Wheatfeed. This is another by-product, this time of flour milling. It’s a mixture of wheat bran, endosperm and other starch screenings and floor sweepings.

Distillers’ grains. This is what is left of the grain after you’ve brewed beer or spirits.

Palm kernel.  This is what’s left after you’ve produced palm oil. It used to be a useful feed but is now often too expensive as it’s snapped up for burning in power stations because it’s ‘sustainable’. (That weasel word again.)

Sugarbeet Pulp. This is what is left of the sugar beet after the sugar has been extracted.

Citrus pulp. This is what is left of the citrus fruit after the juice has been squeezed out for people to drink.

But the most important part of the diet is grass.

So we feed concentrates and grass into a cow and we get three outputs. We get milk, we get more cow, and we get what could nicely be described as dung.

We put the dung back onto the land where it grows more grass etc. But we lose fertility because we export milk, and eventually, cow, as beef. We have to replace that lost fertility.

Then look at our consumers. They eat food and it produces work, more consumer, and, inevitably, dung.

To balance the cycle, that dung ought to go back to the farm where it would help replace the lost fertility. But instead the consumer adopts a ‘euugh’ response and flushes it away and thinks no more about it.

But it is the stuff that is flushed away that needs to be replaced and it’s the reason farmers have to purchase artificial fertilisers.

Now this is a relatively new problem. In the UK, the 1847 Town Improvement Clauses Act legalised the discharge of sewerage into rivers and seas and allowed its sale for agricultural purposes. The 1848 Public Health Act decreed every new house should have a water closet or ash-pit privy, which was to be emptied by a night soil collector.

Indeed at one point London had a reasonable system for disposing of its night soil. There were a number of ‘Laystalls’. Originally they were places where cattle had been held and the term evolved into a place where dung was stored. London still has a Laystall Street, at Mount Pleasant. (Not far from Hatton Garden and Smithfield) which in the period before 1800 was apparently a seven acre dung heap.

From there it could be shifted by boat, barge and later by railway and was spread on farmland.

Eventually the system risked becoming overloaded. By 1890 London had, as well as people, 50,000 horses working in the transport system. New York was in an even worse situation, with 100,000 horses producing over 11,000 tons of horse muck a day. It was the advent of the internal combustion engine and the electric tram which rescued cities from disappearing under a mountain of muck.

From and agricultural point of view we could go back to the system, it would greatly reduce the carbon footprint of the country. There are issues. One is composting. In the good old days when everybody had an ash privy which was cleaned out twice a year, there wasn’t a problem. The material composted in the privy and when dug out it could be spread on the land immediately. Unfortunately raw sewage would have to be composted. Still there’s plenty of derelict city centre sites that could be cleared and used for the purpose.

Also there’s all the rubbish city dwellers put in their dung. The media occasionally runs stories on some huge fatberg bigger that a blue whale. Well firstly catering establishments could just be inspected. They can keep a tally of cooking oil purchased and used cooking oil sent for recycling. That would help a great deal. Similarly DIY enthusiasts can stop tipping turps, engine oil and other noxious substances down the drains.

After all, the producers ought to look after their own dung. If anybody feels that there’s too much of it. then they should either just cross their legs, or perhaps just eat less.

♥♥♥♥

 

You would have thought that when talking crap at least I know what I’m talking about. But I’ve worked with the experts

For this collection of stories, Sal, our loyal Border Collie, is joined by Terry Wogan, Janis Joplin and numerous dairy cows. Meet pheasants, Herdwicks, Border Collies, and the occasional pink teddy bear. Welcome to the world of administrative overload and political incomprehension. All human life, (or at least all that hasn’t already fled screaming for sanctuary) is here.

As a reviewer commented, Jim Webster’s recollections, reflections and comments, about life as a Farmer, are always worth reading, not only for information, but also for entertainment and shrewd comments about UK government agencies (and politicians).
One of the many observations that demonstrate his wryness, is as follows:
There was a comment in the paper the other day. Here in the UK, clowns are starting to complain that politicians are being called clowns. The clowns point out that being a clown is damned hard work, demands considerable fitness, great timing and the ability to work closely with others as part of a well drilled team!

Wandering Herdwicks

We have only formally wintered Herdwicks once, as an experiment. Fences good enough for cattle and even for mule ewes, might as well have not been there. The chap whose Herdwicks they were fetched them in two groups and they remained in two groups. Even when wandering they stuck to their groups. Indeed at one point both lots were out, and wandered down a track towards each other, passed through each other and kept going in their chosen direction.

At the time I did wonder whether the two groups didn’t ever stop to think, “If they’re abandoning this direction, is it worth us going there?” But obviously sheep don’t work like that.

At the time we had some electrified wire netting we used to keep cows and calves out of certain areas. Imagine a sheep netting fence of string but with thin metal wires fed through it carrying the current. It was very effective with calves and their mothers. It’s only 12 volt but they touched it once and didn’t touch it again.

Still we had one Herdwick hogg who obviously took exception to the damned stuff. When we found her she’d managed to wrap the entire fifty yard roll around herself. It wasn’t that she’d got caught in it and was trailing it behind her. No she was completely bundled up in it.

But as I said, we only did it once. There are two problems, one obvious (damned things never stay where you put them) and one less obvious. The owner doesn’t want them back until he’s got grass. That, for him, will be sometime in May. We want them away in March because otherwise they’re eating the grass we need for first cut silage for our dairy cows. The attempts to synchronise these two desires leads to a belief in both parties that the other party is obviously using a different calendar.

But in spite of only wintering Herdwicks that once, we still get Herdwicks in small numbers every year. They’re like nits at a primary school, somebody gets them, and then everybody gets them.

A lot of years ago, one farmer, now deceased, wintered some. If they spent any time on his land it was because they crossed it to get out on the other side. Their wanderings were limited. On two sides there was the sea. On the third side was ‘the beck’ which was cut like an anti-tank ditch back in the 60s, and that seems to have stopped them. On the fourth side was the old coal-fired power station. It had areas where hot ashes cooled and to an extent, from a sheep’s point of view, looked somewhat like Mordor. But as well as the ash pits (and for all I know, wandering Orcs and giant spiders) there was a wire dump. During the war, because we’re a shipbuilding town with a good docks, we were considered a potential invasion target. What made it more possible was the fact that we had both vast areas of flat sand (Morecambe Bay) where you could land gliders, and the best deep water harbour between Milford Haven and the Clyde. I think that the fear was that the invasion would be a combination of glider troops and paras direct from the Continent, and then troops landed from ‘neutral’ merchant shipping lurking in the ports of the Irish Republic.

I can remember as a child, the sands were still covered with anti-glider posts hammered into the sands. There are still the pill boxes and gun emplacements, but there had been an awful lot of barbed wire. Whilst the pill boxes etc are still there and the glider posts disappeared as the sea worked on them, the barbed wire had to be removed. Next to the power station was what was said to be the main ‘barbed wire dump.’
Now the chap who was wintering the Herdwicks never got involved in details, but I know one farmer who reckoned back in the day he spent quite a lot of time cutting Herdwicks out of the barbed wire.

The same farmer went to a sale somewhere in the north of the county and he got chatting to the chap standing next to him at the sale ring. When the farmer he was talking to discovered where my informant was from, this new acquaintance commented, “I once had some sheep winter down there. I’ve never had a batch do as well.”

There again, they’d had plenty of ground to run over.

But this year no Herdwicks, none of our neighbours seem to have got any. But we have had walkers wandering.

Now this has been intriguing. During the first lockdown, the weather was gorgeous and we got a lot of people walking through the lanes. To be honest I don’t have a problem with that. I suppose having had covid anyway means I’m less fussed, but given where some of them live, no wonder they need to get out. This lockdown the weather has been worse and we’ve seen few people on the lanes. But I’ve seen more walkers trying to follow footpaths. I’d be hedging and minding my own business and somebody would shout across asking where they were and how they got back to the road.

As a far better writer than I wrote,

“All that is gold does not glitter,

Not all those who wander are lost;”


To be fair, round here, I’d say a fair proportion have been. Still I was talking to somebody and she commented that she’d noticed a lot of people taking their exercise walking round the town centre. She reckoned there was two factors at work, the first is the weather. If it does chuck it down, you’ve got shelter. But perhaps more worrying, a lot of this started when police in the Peak District started fining people £200 for driving five miles to walk, and claimed taking a coffee with you meant you were having a picnic. (The police backed down over that) Talking to people she knew, some of them commented that in town you weren’t going to get fined for going too far from home.

Now whilst I know Cumbria Constabulary has quite rightly got a bit shirty with people driving considerable distances to get into the Lake District and then wild camping, I’ve heard nothing negative about them locally. In fact what comments I’ve heard about our local force have been entirely positive.

I know of one chap who does have mental health issues. He suffers from panic attacks. During the first lockdown he was in his car and was stopped by the police. He explained that when he had a panic attack he drove to the beach, parked his car and just sat in it and looked at the sea. Whether it was going out or coming in didn’t matter, just looking at the sea, often for two or three hours, just lifted him out of it.

When he’d explained this the policeman just stepped back and told him to go to where he normally parked, take as long as he wanted, and if any busybody queried it, tell them he had police approval.

♥♥♥♥

You need to be a real professional to cope with sheep

More tales from a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England, with sheep, Border Collies, cattle, and many other interesting individuals. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is just one of those things.

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.”

https://jandbvwebster.wordpress.com/dogs-and-quadbikes/

Hedging in your shirt sleeves

Actually this was going to be ‘diking in your shirtsleeves’ but that apparently means different things to different people. Here a dike is a hedge which is normally set on a ‘cop’. The dike cop is two ‘dry stone walls’ set about a yard apart with space between them filled with soil and stone etc. And here again I’m running the risk of falling foul of all sorts of algorithms because I’m laying a hedge (or in my culture, laying a dike).  

Last year we dug the drain out that runs down one side of the dike and put up a good fence. So I decided this winter that I’d finish the job off properly, lay the dike and then make good the fence on this side as well.

The problem is that my Grandfather ought to have tackled this hedge back in the 1950s when we still had labour. I’m doing the job at least sixty years later than it should have been done.

Looking down the hedge, it isn’t as much a hedge any more as a long narrow copse. The ditch on one side kept it in place, but on the other side it’s pushed its way through one fence and was in the process of devouring a second one erected later. A lot of the old hawthorn is dying, and cutting it right back, removing all the dead wood and rubbish will hopefully revive it. Then I can hopefully work a lot of the new, younger stuff into the hedge as well. But it’s one of those jobs where your best friend is your chain saw. There is just so much rubbish to cut out. Also everything is so entangled. To be fair, that’s one reason why we use hawthorn, because it does interweave and make a good stock proof barrier. The problem here is that the good stock proof barrier is about six feet off the ground and below that you can push between the various boles easily enough.

So I work out which of the vertical stems I’m going to keep. Then I cut out those that I don’t need. Following this I cut away the entangling bits from the ones I do need. Finally I cut diagonally down through the stems I want so they’ll bend over and lie down but still keep their connections to their roots. Note that when I talk about stems, some of these I can just get both hands round. So it makes sense to trim a lot of their upper canopy away, otherwise they’ll be too heavy to lay into place. And all the thick stuff that gets cut out is cut into six foot lengths, put to one side, and my last job of the day is to put it on the saw horse and cut it down to lengths for burning on the fire. Today’s hedging cuts next winter’s firewood.

So in a couple of years, hopefully we’ll have a vigorous hedge with no gaps, and in sixty years’ time, somebody will doubtless curse me as they try and restore order once again.

The problem we face is that whilst I know people who can lay hedges, you need time and to an extent you need the weather. There are only so many months in which you can lay a hedge. Traditionally it’s when there is an ‘r’ in the month. But EU regulation and cross compliance cut this down a bit. Also you cannot do it when it’s too cold or stuff splits off rather than lays nicely, and equally obviously, I’ve got better things to do in the rain. Similarly high winds mean you cannot do the job either. So last winter I got virtually none done.

Then there’s the fact that, with food production becoming more and more marginal, there is less labour about, and the labour we have is far too busy to do jobs like this. We have the ridiculous situation of people, their mouths full of cheap food, complaining that they don’t like the way the countryside is going.

To an extent I can see the justification. It actually makes sense to subsidise food (because the poor spend a far higher proportion of their income on food than the more prosperous do) and then take money in tax of those who are doing OK, to put back into agriculture.

But the problems are caused by not merely how much money they put back, but how they put the money back. It’s how the various schemes are designed. A lot of the environmental schemes over the years have not been very good. Now a lot of environmental schemes are effectively contracts farmers will enter for a period of so many years. When the period is over the farmer can take on another contract. But because all the schemes are changing because we no longer have to just use the EU schemes, some contracts will run out before the new scheme will be available. The idea was that the contracts that ended would just be ‘rolled over’ for a couple of years until the new one was ready and farmers could then transfer seamlessly from one to another.

The problem is that some contracts cannot be rolled over. Basically, the various agencies have had to admit that the scheme they designed hasn’t worked. And you aren’t allowed to roll over a scheme that doesn’t work. (Which is sensible, it’s an attempt to stop public money just being poured to waste.)
Now if the reason the scheme hadn’t worked is because the farmer didn’t fulfil the contract, the money would be clawed back. That can be done and is done. But these schemes haven’t worked, not because the farmer hasn’t done what was asked, but because what the farmer was asked to do was never going to work. The designers of the schemes didn’t know what they were doing. It has to be admitted that in some cases farmers told them ten or fifteen years ago that the schemes wouldn’t work. Fifteen years later, the designers have probably retired on decent pensions, whilst we’re left with fifteen wasted years.

Still, Tuesday was a good day. For once the weather behaved, the sun shone and I ended up taking my jacket off and working in my shirt sleeves. There must be worse ways of spending a nice day in January.

♥♥♥♥

There again, what do I know? Talk to the experts.

For this collection of stories, Sal, our loyal Border Collie, is joined by Terry Wogan, Janis Joplin and numerous dairy cows. Meet pheasants, Herdwicks, Border Collies, and the occasional pink teddy bear. Welcome to the world of administrative overload and political incomprehension. All human life, (or at least all that hasn’t already fled screaming for sanctuary) is here.

Funny time to be a shepherd

I’ve worked with sheep, but I’d never call myself a shepherd. I’ve not got that level of expertise. But one of the things about shepherds is that they tend not to be centre stage.

Historically they were always looked down on. Even more than the rest of us involved in agriculture they were shunned. (Even now ‘peasant’ is an insult in the mouths of people who couldn’t feed themselves if Orcado stopped delivering.)

Take the Christmas story. We are used to a bowdlerised version. Somewhere in this house there is a photo of me (and thirty other children) dressed up for our School Nativity. Nearly sixty years ago now, the sweet girls were angels. (Memory insists that having blonde hair and a mother who could sew seems to have been part of how you got the job but I couldn’t swear to it.) The rest of the girls and all the boy were shepherds. We wore dressing gowns and had tea towels on our heads.

Back in the day, things would have been a bit different. Herdsmen, whether they herded cattle or sheep, were very much looked down on.

Varro in his work ‘On Agriculture’ looks at herd slaves and states “those who work the cattle trails must be stronger than those who return to the home farm of the estate every day, which is of course, why you see young men, almost always armed, out on the trails.”

“You should choose quick, surefooted men of powerful physique who move with agility, men who are able not just to follow the herd, but also to defend it from wild animals and bandits. They should be men who can lift heavy loads onto the backs of pack animals, men who can run fast and are skilled at throwing spears.”

To quote Diodorus Siculus  34

2. The young men they used as cowherds, the others in such ways as they happened to be useful. But they treated them with a heavy hand in their service, and granted them the most meagre care, the bare minimum for food and clothing. As a result most of them made their livelihood by brigandage, and there was bloodshed everywhere, since the brigands were like scattered bands of soldiers.

3. The governors (praetores) attempted to repress them, but since they did not dare to punish them because of the power and prestige of the gentry who owned the brigands, they were forced to connive at the pillaging of the province. For most of the landowners were Roman knights (equites), and since it was the knights who acted as judges when charges arising from provincial affairs were brought against the governors, the magistrates stood in awe of them.

So shepherds and similar were a pretty rough lot. Indeed even our dressing-gown and tea-towel wearing Judean shepherds would have been very much below the salt. Living with their flocks, wandering from grazing to grazing, unable to fulfil strict religious duties they’d be regarded by respectable people as thieves and worse. ‘The people of the land’ was in this period used to mean people who were rustic, ignorant and boorish.

(As an aside the Angels were if anything worse. Forget cute girls dressed in white, in Luke it says, “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God.”
In the English of the King James, a Host is an army. In the Greek the word is stratias, which is at the root of the Greek words for army, soldier, general, and we still use strategy. So rather than delightful children, you want to imagine something more like the massed singing you get from Cardiff Arms Park.)

Oh and whilst we’re wandering about in the Greek, The word “idiot” comes from the Greek noun ἰδιώτης (transliterated as idiōtēs). This means ‘a private person, an individual’, ‘a private citizen’ as opposed to a public servant. The ordinary soldiers in the army were ‘idiōtēs’ (as were most of the angels, but I’m not volunteering to tell them.)
This was taken up in Latin. The literary classes borrowed idiota to mean ‘uneducated’, ‘ignorant’, ‘common’, and in Late Latin it came to mean ‘crude, illiterate, ignorant’. Because after all, private soldiers and ordinary people are, aren’t they?
We got the word via French and it remains an insult.


But anyway, back to our shepherds. ‘The people of the land.’ In the last month, suddenly, people who had shunned them, who had given them no thought at all, became intensely worried about them.

Now I have helped out with FCN and I’ve seen the real problems at lot of families have had. I’ve talked to families whose environmental payments have been delayed over a year because of some IT issue. I wonder what would happen in a government department if the staff were told that because of IT problems they weren’t going to be paid for eighteen months?
I’ve talked to others who weren’t getting paid their basic payment because they had common land and the government IT system couldn’t cope with common land. (And remember these aren’t nice extras, these are payments which government has contracted to pay because farmers have undertaken to farm in a certain way. A way which means they can no longer get an adequate income from the market but which produces environmental benefits.)
I was told by somebody in RPA that their problem stemmed from the fact that they’d purchased an Italian IT system which worked really well, but the Italians don’t have common land (and England is apparently 3% common land) and thus when the RPA ran the system it just couldn’t cope with a lot of hill farmers. Whether this is accurate or not I cannot say, but frankly, anybody who has been surprised that our civil service has made such of bog of coronavirus really needs to get out more.

Still as I was saying. Shepherds. One way or another they’ve had a lot of hassle thrown at them. Then at one point in December, the zoom classes, the commentariat, the ones who hadn’t given a tuppenny damn about shepherds when they were being screwed over by government IT and regulation, suddenly discovered that they could be hit by a no-deal Brexit. In simple terms, we’re one of the world’s major exporters of sheep meat. We have the terrain, the weather, the skills, the breeds. It means that sheep meat is about the only agricultural commodity we are net exporters of.

Suddenly all these people who’d suddenly discovered shepherds were all over social media saying how terrible brexiteers were and how the shepherds were being sacrificed for the political whims of a lot of thicko racists.

And now there’s a deal and things might or might not be OK, all those desperately concerned new friends of the shepherds have abandoned them again. But don’t worry, you’ll probably meet them at the next fashionable rewilding conference. But actually you’ll probably not be invited to the conference anyway, idiōtēs

♥♥♥♥

There again, what do I know? As a real expert

A collection of anecdotes, it’s the distillation of a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England. I’d like to say ‘All human life is here,’ but frankly there’s more about Border Collies, Cattle and Sheep.

As a reviewer commented, “Jim Webster’s stories make me nostalgic for a world I’ve never known – and probably am not sturdy enough to survive. His affection for his charges, the ewes and the lambs, is evident when he points out they are smarter than horses (horses have better PR). His warm tales about his sheep dogs make me want to own a dog (I’m not a dog person, and these are intelligent farm worker dogs, not pets). It’s the straightforward and down home way he writes about the daily life of someone who’s been a farmer since a child, through all the wavering government support and lack thereof, through the plagues of the farm life, in a way that shows the depth of his love for his home and profession. Think ‘James Herriot, Farmer.’

I’m stopping to write this review at the end of the 8th entry, labeled, ‘Occasionally you get it right,’ because he does – and I want to savor the rest of them slowly.

Jim Webster is a writer – I can give no higher praise. Read him, and you may be a little closer to what it really means to be a sheep farmer, as close as you can get. You get all the good stuff. It’ll warm your cockles.”

Impulse buying bulls

It must have been back in the 1970s, I could doubtless work it out more exactly by checking through the calving records but we’re not to a year here. My Dad and I were in Ulverston Auction for something, and I can no longer remember why. It wasn’t often we both went. Now Ulverston Auction was one of those places where you could find all sorts of livestock for sale.

Anyway, as we walked up the shippon looking at dairy cows (which we had no intention of buying), we came to a Welsh Black bull who was tied up next to them. To be honest we had no interest in buying him either. We had used AI for a decade or more and whilst AI men might have had a habit of drifting cars sideways as they came into the yard, that was pretty much the limit to the dangers they posed.

To be fair their driving could be spectacular. I was once chatting to the mechanic who serviced their cars in the garage at Milnthorpe. One AI man had come in with his car, complaining of a problem.

“There’s this nasty screaming from the left hand side when I corner at much over sixty.”

The mechanic had nodded sagely, “That will be your passenger.”
But anyway, Dad and I looked at this young bull, and he was a nice bull. Showing potential, he’d obviously grow into something decent.

So we went on to do whatever we were there to do (racking my memory it might have been to see the accountant) and forgot all about him.

About an hour later we walked through the dairy ring just as they were trying to sell him. He’d got to £150 and stuck. Now I won’t say ‘he was for nowt’ but it was getting awfully close. So Dad and I leaned on the metal rails that formed the ring and watched. Dad commented that it was awfully cheap. I probably said something about, ‘he’d be worth more in the fat ring.’
Anyway I put in a bid, and whoever was bidding put in another bid. And thus and so, I ended up buying him for £208. Which to be fair was still awfully cheap.

Anyway merely buying the bull is really the start of the whole ‘bull’ experience rather than an end of it. We loaded him into the cattle trailer and took him home. We didn’t have a bull pen so we tied him up in a shippon. He seemed happy enough with this and we went in and explained to my mother what had happened.

Anyway, that winter when we had a heifer who had ‘come abulling’ or a dairy cow who AI couldn’t catch, we just used to let him out into the collecting yard and he’d serve them, I’d put the halter back on him and take him back to the shippon and tie him up again.

Come spring the plan was to turn him out to grass with a batch of heifers. So after we’d turned the heifers out, Dad went to check with a neighbour he wasn’t going to put his heifers out in the field next door, because whilst love may laugh at locksmiths, bulls giggle quietly at hedges and dairy heifers, mad abulling, cheerfully take barbed wire entanglements in their stride.

Dad landed back, the neighbour had no plans to put heifers there, so we’d take the bull up in a couple of days. Except by then heifers appeared in the neighbour’s field.

So muttering a bit, when a heifer of ours came abulling we’d load the bull into the cattle trailer, take him up to the field and let him out. Then I’d put the halter on him and walk him back into the trailer and take him home. It did strike me at times we were falling over backwards to be neighbourly, but still.

Now remember that I was handling this bull on a halter, leading him in and out of trailers etc. Whilst he did have a ring through his nose we never used it because he didn’t need it.

Anyway one day we took him up to the field, and whilst he was working, Dad and I would go and check the grass on a mowing field next door. We walked back to the heifers, and there was no bull. So what had the daft young beggar gone and done. Was there a heifer abulling next door?
We looked round, couldn’t see anything untoward happening. Then I looked in the trailer. He was quietly standing there, patiently waiting to go home.

Anyway we used him that summer and all next winter. The problem was that he was growing faster than I was. He probably topped the scales at well over half a ton and there was this realisation that just because I was holding the end of the rope didn’t necessarily mean I was the one in charge. So we decided that it was time he went on to pastures new.

So we took him back to Ulverston Auction. There he was purchased for £350 by a chap who had a biggish suckler herd which grazed the local bird sanctuary. I’ve been round the sanctuary, pick your time and you’ve everything from breeding grey seals to nesting gulls. But when gulls are nesting you carry an umbrella and wear a waterproof. Even the suckler cows can be seen to flinch as an irate gull flashes past their head.

♥♥♥♥

There again, live long enough, it’s amazing what you see

More tales from a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England, with sheep, Border Collies, cattle, and many other interesting individuals. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is just one of those things.

As a reviewer commented, ” always enjoy Jim’s farming stories, as he has a way of telling a tale that is entertaining but informative at the same time. I’ve learned a lot about sheep while reading this book, and always wondered how on earth a sheepdog learns to do what it does – but I know now that a new dog will learn from an old one. There were a few chuckles too, particularly at how Jim dealt with unwanted salespeople. There were a couple of shocks regarding how the price of cattle has decreased over the years, and also sadly how the number of UK dairy farms has dropped from 196,000 in 1950 to about 10,000 now.
Jim has spent his whole life farming and has acquired a wealth of knowledge, some of which he shares in this delightful book.”