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The dog does not entirely approve.

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At the moment Sal is barking. She doesn’t bark a lot, only at times when she feels she ought to be out there sorting things out in her own inimitable way. As Border Collies go she has two foibles. The first is that she doesn’t like sheep standing close to the hedge. Over the years, when we’ve been looking sheep, she’s noticed that we occasionally have to walk across and disentangle on that has managed to get itself caught up in briars. Or perhaps it’s stuck its head through the wire netting and cannot pull it back out.
So when she sees a sheep too close to the hedge, she’ll run across and move it. At times this can be quite useful. I’ve seen lambs get themselves tangled and just sit there, convinced they’re completely stuck. The arrival of Sal suddenly galvanises them into action and, quite literally, ‘with one bound they’re free.’

Her other foible arises from the fact that she lives in a cattle trailer. Sometimes in it, sometimes under it, sometimes sleeping in the snug and sheltered plastic drum within the trailer; it all depends on what she particularly wants to do. All this is perfectly normal for the working collie. What gets her barking is that from her cattle trailer she can see one end of a field we know as ‘The Meadow.’ Her foible is that she objects to sheep grazing on that bit of the field and seems to regard it as a personal affront. It must be admitted that the sheep seem to take no notice at all of her barking.

We’re not sure why she finds their presence so irritating, perhaps it’s just the deeply held conviction that sheep without a Border Collie in close attendance are going to get into trouble? Whether she was brought up on ‘Little Boy Blue’ with ‘the sheep in the meadow, the cows in the corn’ I wouldn’t like to speculate.

Now her attitude isn’t a ‘problem’ as such, she doesn’t bark interminably at them. Just lets us know they’re there, in case we come to our senses and do what she considers the obvious thing and let her out to supervise them.

Over the past few days there have been more sheep wandering onto the bit of the Meadow she can see. Basically every year some of the older ewes have to be culled, and you fetch in some younger sheep. Some you might breed yourself, but a lot of people will fetch in new blood as well.

What’s been interesting is the way the batches have or have not been mixing. Firstly there was a batch purchased from somebody who was retiring. We stuck them in with a small group of our own sheep and for the first few days the two batches largely kept separate, although the two batches might graze close to each other.

Then three more groups were purchased at a sale. Now each group came from a different farm. So each of these three groups tended to stick together but shunned the other four groups. They didn’t stick with the main batch because it wasn’t ‘their flock’. In an attempt to keep out of the way of ‘not their flock’ the little batches push out to the edge of the grazing area and thus graze the patch of ground Sal can see and feels protective about.
Anyway today they were all fetched in and the new arrivals were treated for worms, liver fluke and suchlike, then they were all let out back into the field. Having been stirred up and mixed I noticed that the little groups are far less exclusive.

Cattle can be like that. If you have one batch of cattle grazing a big enough area, and let another batch onto the same ground, the two groups can retain their cohesion for quite a while. We’ve put a second group onto a field and a couple of days later, because circumstances have changed; we’ve taken the first group out. The groups hadn’t mixed and our moving one lot didn’t bother the other lot in the slightest. But again, if you bring two lots together in the yard and let them run down the lane together into the field, the self imposed barriers between the two groups seem to disappear remarkably quickly.

Social scientists might draw conclusions from this but if I were them I’d be wary. If their tinkering with the underlying fabric of reality leads to Border Collies disapproval, I predict that things will not go well.

‘Honest to God’ and her ilk.

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One thing you don’t see on farms much now are the various van salesmen. They’d travel from farm to farm selling stuff. The vast majority of it was at least quazi-legally acquired.

You’d get the ‘gate salesmen’ who’d turn up with an open pickup loaded with metal gates. Sometimes they’d got a load cheap, perhaps picked up at a bankruptcy sale; sometimes they’d picked up some cheap steel and had a mate who could weld. Some of the latter gates could be good value, especially if they’d picked up some decent steel angle-bar cheap. At least with angle-bar you can see the thickness of the metal you’re buying. Gates made out of welded steel tubes take a lot more sussing out. I’ve seen tubing used where galvanizing the damned stuff probably doubled its weight!

Then there were the chaps selling clothes. They would pick up seconds from the Lancashire mills or stock clearance from shops closing down and they’d stack it all in the truck and head out. I remember as late as the 1980s one lad proudly presented for our inspection a dozen boxes of shirt’s he’d found, still in their wrappers, when he’d bought out the entire stock of an old clothes shop. They were the old style, with separate collars which were attached by studs. Far more importantly they were so long that when you wore them, you were sitting on them when you sat down. Men had a damned sight less back problems brought on by working in a cold draught when they wore shirts like that.

Then there were the tool sellers, the purveyors of carpets and rugs, canned foods where the labels had suffered in storage, honey in five gallon drums, patent medicines for people or for livestock, and any number of others. They worked on the principle that they acquired it cheap and sold it for whatever mark-up they could get.

I suppose there isn’t the market any more. In 1950 there were 196,000 dairy farms in the UK, now there might still be over 10,000. The number of other farms types of farm has also declined. Not only that but with less than a third of the manpower in farming compared to what there was in the 1960s, people are just too damned busy. On top of this, when some bright spark comes into your yard to quote you a price, it’s the job of a moment to ask google for a price comparison.

Also I suspect that people are now so busy and so stressed that they’re more willing to tell a time wasting salesman to leave; normally using a two word expressing ending in ‘Off’, the first word having between four and six letters.

What you have to remember is that whilst some of these traders you saw once and then never again, some were fixtures, you’d see them most years. They’d built a market for themselves, their stuff was OK, the prices were OK, and they were good enough to deal with. Not only that but by definition, it was all delivered to the yard.

Most of them have sort of faded from memory now, there’s a couple I might recognise if I bumped into them somewhere. Yet there’s one I’m never likely to forget. I haven’t a clue what her name was but if I went onto any farm in South Cumbria or North Lancashire and asked if ‘Honest to God’ had been recently they’d know exactly who I meant.

She (and it was a she) was unusual in that I don’t remember many other women selling gates. She had her husband with her, but he said nothing, he merely lifted gates of and on the pickup. (He seemed to have taken his role from watching Fanny Cradock and her husband Johnnie.) I don’t remember her starting a sentence with anything but ‘Honest to God……’ Trust me; she started a lot of sentences. But to be fair to her, she certainly saved you the trouble of starting your own. It was a conversation that verged on the monologue. I think her sales technique was just to overwhelm you with a constant barrage of spiel until you bought something if only to get rid of her.

It once took us over an hour to get rid of her, we were obviously two courteous. Far too courteous because she kept reappearing every year. Finally she turned up on a day when my parents were both away. I was, by definition, at least twice as busy as I normally was and drove down the yard with the tractor going flat out to find her and her husband standing by their truck looking for a victim.

She flagged me down and shouted something.

I replied, “I cannot hear you for the tractor.”

She shouted something else, longer this time.

I replied, “I’ve got to keep the tractor at full rev. I cannot let it stop.”

This was perfectly true, if the tractor wasn’t at full rev there was a chance I might have heard her, and be blowed if I was going to stop it and waste half an afternoon.

She shouted something else, perhaps it was more eloquent this time, I don’t know, it might even have been beseeching.
I replied, “Sorry, cannot hear you, have to go, needs fixing.”

With that I drove off round the corner in among the buildings. I left the tractor running full rev until I saw her and her husband drive out of the yard.

They came back one more time but we were lucky, we saw them coming and managed to disappear.

 

Oh yes, in case I forgot to mention it, a collection of tales is available at

 

 

For a mere £0.99

Timing

Kendall-Sale

They always say that timing is the secret of good comedy, and frankly it’s the secret of success in agriculture as well. I knew two chaps who retired after a lifetime in dairy farming. For a tenant, selling your dairy herd basically pays for the house you have to buy.

The two men were much of an age; their herds were pretty much the same. Yet the first got an average of £1,100 a cow, the other chap who retired two years later averaged about £600 a cow.

Why the difference? A mixture of things, most of which wouldn’t even make the papers, politicians tweaking EU dairy policy, supermarkets cementing their dominance in UK milk sales, there were currency fluctuations, all sorts of things.

But what it meant was that one chap had £66,000 to show for a life-time’s work, the other had £36,000.

I know another chap who kept farming for a few extra years in an attempt to build up a bit more capital. He worked out that because of those five years, with dairy cow prices falling and the EU decision to end milk quota leading to a collapse in the price, he’d effectively knocked £30,000 off his capital for the privilege of working the extra five years.

Obviously there are swings and roundabouts. I came to the conclusion that we managed to survive the whole EU quota scheme without gaining or losing on it. Some people who retired and sold their quota when it was at its height did OK. Still, no matter how good you are at the job, whether you get out of the job with a home and a decent pension is pretty much blind luck.

It’s one reason why I’m watching the Brexit negotiations with no real sense of panic. For a start they haven’t actually started negotiating yet, we’re still at the posturing stage.

Take the Northern Ireland border issue. How on earth can you decide what sort of border is needed until you have agreed what sort of trade agreement there is between the EU and UK. If I was Theresa May I’d just offer the Irish Republic free-trade and promise them that as long as they stay out of the Schengen agreement there won’t be a border.

As for the insistence that the European Court of Justice should deal with matters regarding EU citizens in the UK after we leave, frankly it’s a nonsense. I’d love to see what the Canadians would say if the EU insisted on it as part of the terms of a trade deal. The EU cannot expect any sovereign state to agree to it.

But at some point the posturing will have to stop and then they’ll have to agree something. I very much doubt that they’ll manage to achieve an agreement before the two years is up. Given the structure of the EU they probably couldn’t get all member states to sign up to a deal in that period. So far we’ve seen the Spanish threaten to veto any agreement that doesn’t solve what they see as the Gibraltar problem, whilst the latest thing I heard was the Greeks want the Elgin marbles back as the price for their agreement. It’ll take more than two years for the Commission to negotiate the agreement with the member states.

So we’ll ‘crash out’.

Probably, but don’t let the hysteria worry you. Nothing is ever as good as they promise and nothing is ever as bad as they threaten it will be.

Take the Brexit vote as an example, instead of the collapse of civilisation we were promised, Cumbria has done quite well. A low pound has boosted tourism and pushed the sheep price up nicely. I know somebody who started their flock last autumn and is selling their first lamb crop this year and is doing very nicely. This sort of boost can get a business nicely on its feet.

 

But why am I not worrying about Brexit? Well in the last thirty years I’ve had EU/Government ;-

 

Retrospectively impose milk quotas

Inflict their management of two major FMD outbreaks on us
We had the BSE fiasco
We had the fiasco that was the single farm payment system

We’ve seen Bovine TB go from being a minor problem in a few parishes to being endemic across vast swathes of the country

 

If I had been in the wrong place at the wrong time, any one of those could have screwed us financially. For example during BSE outbreak there were more farmer/butcher suicides than there were people who died of the disease.

 

If I was the sort of person who took it personally I might claim that pretty well twice a decade the EU/Government has done its best to leave me homeless.

Brexit? Yeah well, whatever. It’s only governments; don’t confuse it with real life.

Sometimes it rains a bit

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Last week it was our local agricultural show, North Lonsdale. Occasionally we have a glorious day for it, because in an infinite universe, anything is possible. But frankly I reckon we have more damp, or at least gloomy days than we have sunny ones.

Still last week you have to admit nobody was going to accuse the day of being half-hearted about it. If you want a day to sum up the Cumbria summer, it was the one. It started by blowing a gale and with driving rain, and by mid afternoon it was actually quite a nice day and the mud was thickening nicely.

I arrived on the show field at about 7:30am because I was going to help with ACTion with Communities in Cumbria with their stand. By 9am, in spite of the driving rain, we had not merely erected a gazebo, we’d taken it down again before it left of its own accord.

But still we found a new home in one of the tents. A fair few traders hadn’t turned up. Now to be fair to them I can understand that. We had some leaflets to hand out. In the morning we left them in the car, there was no point at all in thrusting paper into somebody’s hand. It was turning to papier-mache even as they struggled to read it. A trader could lose thousands of pounds in damaged stock without selling a thing.

But anyway in the tent we made ourselves at home. In passing I’ll say a big thank-you to Ulverston Auction Mart and the local NFU office for keeping us supplied with coffee. Facing those conditions inadequately caffeinated is a recipe for disaster.

But once underway we did all sorts of things. We talked to people about disaster planning. Given the weather people could see where we were coming from with that one. Also we did a survey, you know the sort of thing. I showed them a list of services rural areas need and asked “Which of the following services are most important to you as a rural dweller?”

 

If you fancy doing the survey then there’s an on-line version of it available here.

https://cumbria.citizenspace.com/voluntary-and-community-sector/rural-services-survey/consultation/intro/

 

I’m sorry if it lacks the ambiance enjoyed by those for whom it was a part of the full North Lonsdale show experience. But if you like you can always fill your Wellingtons with tepid water before sitting down at the computer to tackle the questionnaire.

After about noon the sun started to come out and people appeared. These were the ones who were there to support ‘their show’ because they know these things are important. Not only that but when we got them doing the survey we’d see them wandering off in their small parties still discussing whether affordable housing or broadband was more important. We didn’t merely ask questions, we started a discussion and people went away thinking. I suspect we were the most subversive organisation on the show field. If everybody started thinking then that would be the end of civilisation as we know it.
And as with all these shows, there were any number of high points. Wringing the water out of my cap for the third time wasn’t really one of them. Still for me, one of them was coming across one chap who I drafted into answering the questions. Once you got him talking you discovered he was a young man with a real heart for the rural community and the problems we have.

Then there were the half dozen or so young lads, aged about ten, who drifted into the tent. With infinite mud and no adult supervision they were having a ball. But in the tent they didn’t splash mud around, answered the questions, and came up with some good points.

Like the lad who said they’d like more parks and footpaths. I was about to say ‘but you’ve got the countryside, what more do you want; but then I realised. He was a decent lad and just wanted to know where he could go. I was born round here and at his age knew everybody. So I could go anywhere. But since then the links between the various parts of the community have broken down, he doesn’t know who owns what, he doesn’t know who to ask. It’s something to think about and hopefully do something about.

And then there were the other traders, to pick one out I’d say a big hello to the shy self-effacing chap from the Damned Fine Cheese Company.

http://www.damnfinecheese.co.uk/

 

Their Black Gold is absolutely beautiful. So beautiful that I’ve been forced to break off to cut myself a slice.
Another to mention is local author Gill Jepson. Gill claims to have been at school with me, but all I can say is that she must have lied about her age to get in early. It takes real nerve to carry books through the driving rain, even if you’re going to sell them in a big tent, but Gill did it

 

http://www.out-of-time.co.uk/

 

So yes, it was a bit wet, but it was a good day.

 

 

Making a hash of it man!

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The problem is that if you are a farmer, it sort of sticks with you. You don’t stop being one just because you’re asleep, on holiday, or reading facebook.  Anyway I saw a post of a friends facebook page saying how much money would be generated in the economy if we legalised marijuana. So of course I just had to sit down to do the maths, but from the farmer’s point of view.

 

It’s interesting trying to get any decent economic figures. First I tried to look for how much marijuana the average user uses (by weight). It’s the sort of thing you need to measure the size of your market. Now there are a lot of figures quoted but people tend to quote the proportion of the population who use the stuff or the estimated financial value of stuff seized.

 

What I did discover was that the average joint apparently contains 0.32gms

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-3698997/How-marijuana-joint-think-experts-find.html

 

Not only that, but apparently the average US user smokes 123 joints per year

 

http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/average-pot-user-consumes-123-joints-per-year-state-estimates/

 

So it’s possible to estimate the size of the market, but what about output?

Apparently you can get 500gms per plant growing outdoors

 

https://www.theweedblog.com/how-much-marijuana-does-a-marijuana-plant-yield/

 

The trouble with articles like that is that they regard individual plants as precious. On an agricultural scale you wouldn’t be worried about yield per plant; you’d be worried about yield per acre.

Looking for a comparison, if I was planting industrial hemp then it’s common to use 10cm spacings between rows. So there you could be looking at about 300 plants be square meter. Obviously growing for marijuana you might sow for a lower crop density. Perhaps aiming at 30 plants a square meter.  But here I’m just guessing, because whilst 30 plants per square meter might optimise marijuana output per plant, at 300 plants per square meter you might still get as much marijuana, but also a valuable fibre crop as well.

But let’s stick with 30 plants per square meter.

First, assuming that each plant only produces half the marijuana it does when being cosseted inside, that’s 30 x 250gms which is 7.5kg per square meter. In marketing terms, that’s 23,438 joints.

All in all this is enough to last 190 average consumers the full year.

 

 
Now the Home Office produced figures which show that 2.1 million people in the UK use the stuff. Now obviously they won’t all smoke the full 123 joints a year. But if it’s legal others might try it and users might smoke more. So let’s have all 2.1 million people smoking 123 joints. So the estimated market is 258,300,000 joints which needs 11020 square meters to grow on. This is just over a hectare, not quite three acres.

Even if I’m an order of magnitude out, or even two orders of magnitudes out, we’re only talking about somewhere between three and three hundred acres.

 

Legalise marijuana in the UK and I suspect in 10 years, it’ll just be part of the fibre hemp industry. Growers planting varieties which will produce marijuana and if Tesco and Asda are willing to pay a reasonable price then more will go for processing. As for price, it’s suddenly an agricultural commodity; it’ll be so cheap that in some years farmers will plough it back in because it’s not worth harvesting.

But then we get VAT and excise duty. At the moment three quarters of the price of a bottle of cheap whisky goes to the government. The various consumer taxes on legal marijuana could be the money tree our political parties are looking for.

 

 

Bigger than Brexit? Unesco awards Lake District World Heritage site status.

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Every so often something comes along and initially you wonder whether it’ll make any difference. And then it occurs to you that it might be wise to read the fine print. So you heroically refuse to allow umpteen pages of dense bureaucratic prose to put you off and you start reading. As you read you slowly come to realise that the world has changed around you and that nothing can be the same again.

You might or might not have noticed that Unesco has awarded the Lake District World Heritage site status. If you want to read their document it’s at

http://whc.unesco.org/archive/2017/whc17-41com-inf8B1-en.pdf

 

The people I feel sorry for are the various groups of environmentalists who have been trying to drive sheep from the fells and who have been pursuing their own, often conflicting, environmental agendas. They got what they asked for and perhaps they are now wishing that they hadn’t asked.

 

What is the most important thing in the Lake District? What holds it all together, keeps it the beautiful place everybody wants to visit? Which body should step forward to accept the grateful plaudits of the masses?
Here I quote Unesco

 

“ICOMOS generally concurs with the view of the State Party but highlights that the maintenance of the English Lake District’s visual qualities is highly dependent on the sustainability of some 200 shepherding farm families and their herds of “hefted” Herdwick sheep. The system has to face crucial challenges of shifts in global markets, changing agricultural subsidies and schemes, particularly given the exit from the European Union, introduced diseases, and climate change.”

 

Yes, the whole thing depends of 200 farming families who’re working long hours for very limited financial recompense. In fact I doubt any of them will earn anywhere near as much as the National Trust Agents and National Park officers who spend so much time telling them what they can and cannot do.

Not only that but for the last couple of decades we’ve had the same endless refrain, get the sheep off the hills, cut down numbers. As Unesco says

 

“In the past, overgrazing and other farming management practices threatened the environmental and natural values of the property. Although these practices have been corrected, there seems to be a certain imbalance in the consideration of the natural values favoured over the cultural values of farming practices. In the future, measures should be adopted that consider also the cultural values and benefits of the farming activities.”

 

Basically think of Unesco as the school teacher who’s standing in front of a bunch of big kids (various conservation bodies) and jabbing her finger at them, telling them that they’ve got to stop bullying the little guys.

But let’s just stop a minute and think about this. Government has accepted this. If it’s true for the Lake District, then it’s true for most of our countryside. We’ve got ourselves a good general principle worthy of wide acceptance here.

 

“In the future, measures should be adopted that consider also the cultural values and benefits of the farming activities.”
That I should live to see the day!

Another issue we have is that for most Cumbrians, tourism is more of a blight than an economic opportunity. The Lake District has about 40,000 inhabitants. The area gets about 17,000,000 visitors a year. That’s 13,000,000 day visits and 4,000,000 overnight stays.

Just to put that in context I was talking to one Lake District farmer from Langdale. On one May day Bank holiday the Park did a survey of the number of people walking though their lambing fields (while their sheep were lambing) and walking up to  Stickle Tarn. The flow of people averaged 1135 per hour thought the day. That’s what tourism means for the people who are doing the work that maintains the Lake District as people like it.

Fortunately Unesco can see the issue here and has an answer

 

“ICOMOS recommends that mechanisms are set up to ensure that economic benefits from tourism are increasingly shared also with shepherds and farmers, recognizing the important ecosystem and management services they provide in maintaining the landscape.”

 

Well fancy that, the peasantry getting a cut of the income stream that only exists because of their work over the centuries. Damned commie pinko stuff this I tell you!

 

But it isn’t just about the 200 farming families. The Lake District works because it’s a community (or at least that bit that isn’t all second homes). The whole community needs help. Especially when we’re getting floods which cut all the roads due to extreme weather events. Unesco is on the ball as always.

 

 

“The management system should be expanded to develop strategies that prevent depopulation, including affordable housing, neighbourhood shops and promotion of local products, strengthen the disaster risk strategies and incorporate into them local knowledge, and develop interpretive plans based on the Outstanding Universal Value of the property so as to assist visitors’ understanding.”

 

Yes you read it here, we are now to have affordable homes and building within the National Park! If I’d written that last year you’d have assumed I’d been smoking something illegal. Finally there are the additional recommendations. I’m just including them all.

ICOMOS recommends that the State Party gives consideration to the following:

a) Providing assurances that quarrying activities within the property will be progressively downsized and extraction volumes limited to what is needed for carrying out conservation of the assets supporting the attributes of the property,

b) Formally committing to avoiding any negative impact on the Outstanding Universal Value and related attributes of the property from the NWCC energy transportation facility being currently planned; and informing the World Heritage Centre about the results of the Heritage Impact Assessment, and how these will be integrated into the planning consent and in the development consent order (DCO),

c) Informing about the timeframe of the integration of World Heritage consideration into the local plans and policies,

d) Developing proactive strategies, including alternative national farm-supporting policies, with the farming community, to address the issues that threaten the viability of the shepherding tradition that maintains many of the landscape’s significant attributes; recognising and financially compensating farmers for their heritage services in caring for the cultural landscape, as well as values such as genetic diversity of herds and food security,

e) Rebalancing programs and funding dedicated to improving natural resources with the need to conserve the valuable cultural landscape that the Lake District is by acting on its key attributes and factors,

f) Strengthening risk preparedness strategies for floods and other disasters that incorporate local knowledge on how to cope with recurrent disastrous natural events,

g) Developing convincing programs to prevent depopulation, including:

a) develop affordable housing for new households and for local retirees,

b) ensure that communities have a mix of commercial outlets that serve the local community,

c) further develop and market local products that benefit residents and local farmers,

h) Developing an interpretation strategy at the landscape level which communicates the different strands of the Outstanding Universal Value by using the documents put together for the nomination dossier,

i) Ensuring that careful attention is paid to conservation of landscape-defining features such as land-use patterns, structures such as shelters, dry stone walls, hedgerows, and also to vernacular architecture and Victorian buildings, not only in designated Conservation Areas, but in the whole property,

j) Submit by 1st December 2018 a report on the implementation of the above recommendations to the World Heritage Centre and to ICOMOS;

Not only have they got to work their way through this list,  but they cannot just kick it into the long grass as far too embarrassing to deal with. Teacher expects their homework back in for marking by the 1st December 2018 or there’ll be trouble.

Already the howls are coming up from the vested interests, the liberal commentators and those who earn serious money from writing about conservation. If you want to read a rant of monumental proportions which verges on the hysterical at times, I’d recommend this one, George Monbiot in full flow. The writing is now on the wall and they don’t like what they’re reading.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jul/11/lake-district-world-heritage-site-sheep?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+main+NEW+H+categories&utm_term=234614&subid=18788738&CMP=EMCNEWEML6619I2

The little ones are the real problem

Stampeding-Longhorns

We were moving some heifers, they’d escaped from field A into field B. I fixed the fence and two of us, plus dog and quad when to bring them down field B, along the road and back into field A. This went well enough except for one of them who took umbrage at the presence of the dog and jumped out of field B, over two perfectly good fences and a bit of broken down hedge, into field C.

We looked at her disappearing down field C to join stock already present, shrugged and decided to get the rest moved to field A. We’d let her calm down a bit and move her tomorrow (or whenever.)

That evening I checked field C. Our errant heifer wasn’t there. So I wandered round a bit and finally discovered she’d worked her way through two perfectly stock-proof hedges to rejoin her mates in field A, entirely of her own volition.

Moving cattle is easy if everybody keeps calm. The problem is that young cattle quite like to run. There’s obvious something atavistic about it all. The thunder of hooves, the dust, the endless prairie, all they need is John Wayne. As an aside here I always remember my Grandfather’s comment,

“Hell I wish I’d had John Wayne working for me.”

“Why Grandad?”

“Because he’s just driven Longhorns into a canyon and they’ve come out the other end Herefords.”

But anyway, a big part of moving cattle is keeping it boring. Not only that but it helps if they know you. So every day, I, and whoever was ‘the Dog’ would walk through every batch of cattle we had. Indeed I’d often take a little bit of feed with me. When I mean ‘a little bit,’ I’m talking a couple of pounds for a batch of sixty or so. It reminds them that you’re one of nature’s nice people and worth following in case you might spontaneously produce more of the stuff for them.

I’ve regularly moved thirty cows with their calves at foot just by walking among them with the bag, then out of the gate and along the lane with Jess quietly trotting along at the back making sure the laggards kept up. If she’d been able to close gates behind us, it would even have saved me having to go back to do that later. This is from Jess’s earlier career when she had proper cattle to play with and wasn’t reduced to putting fear of Dog into sheep for a living.

But when you’re dealing with cows and calves, the problem isn’t the cow, it’s the calf. The cows are, in a vague sort of way, rational. When they set off at a run you can normally pinpoint the stimuli which provoked it. With calves they can just do it for no reason whatsoever.

The problem with calves running is not only that they are fast, but they’re not really bothered about directions or destinations, but are concentrating entirely on the running. So they can blunder through fences, end up in ditches and generally cause all sorts of problems. Not only that but as the dog tries to turn them they can run straight over her, or alternatively, they might stop abruptly, tentatively sniff the dog’s nose and then run wildly in an entirely different direction.

Once they start running, the only real solution is to put Mum back in the field, let her restore order and then bring Mum and calf out together.

Then you have the problem of gateways. Twenty of them will troop quietly through the gateway with no trouble, and one calf will somehow miss the gap and stand facing the hedge bawling for Mum. And Mum is standing on the far side of the hedge bawling back. Something like

“Help, help, I’m lost, I’m trapped, I’m alone in the world, doomed, doomed.”

And from the other side of the hedge, “So help me, don’t you make me come in there or you’ll be sorry.”

“Doomed, doomed, there’s no way out, help.”

“You wait ‘til your father gets home, we’ll see what he has to say about it.”

At the same time the dog is standing there muttering, “I can see why they eat grass, everything else is smarter than they are.”

So the solution to this problem is for a human to very quietly edge the calf along the hedge until it can see the gate again. If you’re lucky the calf will move slowly, a few steps at a time, and finally inspiration will strike and it’ll follow the others. If you’re unlucky it will set off at speed in some random direction and you’ll have to start the process all over again.

 

And in case you want more tales of Border collies and real life, have you read