Tag Archives: bluidy auld witch

A haiku for swimming sheep

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Just because somebody can do something, it doesn’t mean that they should. Just as some men shouldn’t wear lycra, sheep shouldn’t swim. Once they’ve been sheared it’s not such a problem. Like cattle they can swim reasonably well and have good natural buoyancy. But in spring, before they’re sheared, sheep really shouldn’t swim. All that sodden wet fleece just weighs them down.

But anyway I was there with quad bike, trailer and their food. I drove into the field heading for a nice dry level bit they’ve not been fed on previously and off to the right I heard bleating. A short detour and I could see a sheep stuck in the beck.

Now calling it a beck gives it a quaint rustic feel. You can almost see the water trickling between stones, with damsel flies hovering above. Except that in our case the beck looks more like an anti-tank ditch dug to stiffen the eastern defences of Barrow, and the bottom is clay rather than stone.

So I fed the sheep and drove back to see what our swimming sheep was doing. Well now she was on the other side of the beck. Fine, now I know where we stand I’ll go home and get the full kit.

So I did. I got home and got the crook. Forget what you’ve ever read about crooks. This one I made myself for this very job. What happens is you descend the steeply sloping side of the beck ready to grab the sheep and pull her out, only to have her move to the other side.

So you clamber up onto the field, walk the hundred yards to the bridge, walk the hundred yards back on the other side of the beck, clamber down the bank, and lo, the sheep moves to the opposite bank.

So my crook is twelve feet of mild steel round bar. We heated the end and it was then bent over to make it the traditional crook shape. It gives me a reach of about ten feet and it means that I get to choose which side of the beck we work from.

Then there’s the rope. It’s a climbing rope somebody gave us. Apparently climbers discard their ropes at a certain point because they’re no longer safe to climb with. Farmers discard ropes as well. Normally when there are so many knots in it you can use it as a step ladder!

I’ve lost track of how many livestock this one has pulled out of water. When it’s been used we just pop it into the washing machine and it’s as good as new.

Finally there’s me. At some point in these rescues there can come a point where you realise you cannot pull 100kg of sheep plus a further 50kg of sodden fleece uphill. You’ve got to go down into the beck and get your knees under her and lift her up. Given that the bottom is mud, you can easily end up waist deep in the muck.

So I put on a pair of shorts and discarded my wellies, wearing instead a pair of old trainers. These trainers are so old and disreputable that I genuinely don’t care if they get lost in the mud at the bottom of the beck. Now properly equipped and ready I set off to rescue our water loving ewe.

One comment I might make at this point is that whilst it’s May, it’s still not the weather for riding on a quadbike wearing shorts. But setting mere personal discomfort to one side I pressed on. I arrived in the field to see her looking up in some alarm at me, the quadbike and all the assembled equipment. She’d moved further along the beck. Here the bank was perhaps more trodden down. So alarmed she was by my sudden reappearance that she managed to struggle up out of the water, flounder her way up the bank and stood dripping by the quad trailer.

 

Move along citizen, nothing to see here.

 

Stuck in deep water

Hears the quad rattling loud

With one bound, she’s free

 

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Welcome to the world of sheep, in paperback or ebook

 

As a reviewer commented, “If I were younger, I would love to spend a year following Jim and Sal around and listening to the stories and adding the special effects, but I sure get a lot of the picture from his well-chosen words.

Can’t wait for the next book! Beautifully done.”

Mum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

♥♥♥♥

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

 

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

 

 

Wonderful stuff, genetics.

 

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So it was about 8pm last night and I decided it was time to walk through the lambing ewes and see if anybody was up to anything. I arrived to find a black faced Suffolk ewe with four new born lambs. Two were black and two were white. There was a problem with this, she hadn’t actually lambed, she’d just borrowed them.

A walk through the rest of the ewes produced a Leicester (They’re the ones with the Roman nose) who had lambed and was quietly ignoring everything that was going on. So I put the Leicester in one of the individual pens and tried to work out what on earth had been going on. She had been scanned for triplets, so was she about to produce a third? Certainly she didn’t want any of the four I could offer her.

Anyway I walked slowly and methodically through the rest of the ewes, nobody else had lambed. Therefore all four were hers. I was about convinced but she most certainly wasn’t. I tried her with the two black ones, whilst the Suffolk insisted on clutching the other pair to her bosom muttering ‘my precioussessss.’

Eventually we haltered her to stop her driving the lambs off and put all four in with her and left her to get on with it. She seems to have accepted them. At some point we’ll borrow two to put on ewes who only have a single lamb because there’s no way she’ll be able to feed them all.

 

But whilst I was looking round, I spotted a little Shearling who was starting to lamb. A shearling is a sheep who has been sheared once. As they’re never sheared in their first year when they’re lambs, it means she’s approaching two years old. She has a twin brother out there who is being kept as a tup. He is probably half as long again as her and taller. She was small but was certainly big enough to tup, because at this point we were expecting her to produce some sort of growth spurt (like her brother has done).

She’s obviously cut from a very different set of genes to her brother as she has remained determinedly small, so when it came to her lambing we were expecting issues.

One quick check and at ten to ten last night we phoned the vet to tell him we were on our way. We lifted the shearling into the back of the car and she went off for a cesarean. Just part of the ordinary working day for a large animal vet.

Just the follow up, the shearling’s lamb didn’t survive, she’s home and once the painkillers and anesthetic wears off we’ll  foster another one onto her.

And of course, mildly miffed that the Leicester was grabbing all the glory, one of the Suffolks who was also scanned for triplets produces quads as well!

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Trust me, there are four lambs in the picture somewhere

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And trying to keep you in the picture

 

A review? Go on then
“Like the other two books in this series, Jim Webster gives us a perspective of farm life we may not have appreciated. Some of the facts given will come as a shock to non-farming readers, but they do need to be read. Having said that, there are plenty of humorous anecdotes to make the book an enjoyable read.”

Betwixt and Between

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I’ve seen a lot of comments this winter about the period between Christmas and New Year. In one newspaper a journalist was moaning about how he loses track of even what day it is and eventually the stultifying boredom of it all gets to him.

I must confess that it’s never been a problem for me. With livestock, if you get two quiet days for Christmas Day and Boxing Day, you’ve done well. From then on you’ll plunged back into normal work (with an added element of catching up) which keeps you nicely busy all the way into the New Year.

This year has been no real exception. Boxing Day and the day after were our first two fine days since about the 18th of December. Since then, as if ashamed of showing weakness, the weather has reverted to foul.

Indeed in agriculture you deal with a lot of companies who work through Christmas, although most do shut on the bank holidays (except for emergencies.) On the 28th December, if I pick up the phone to a Vet, an agricultural engineer, a haulier, or an auction mart, I’d expect the phone to be answered because they were working. Even feed merchants will have some staff on to cope with emergencies. Indeed we have always had a rule, in that if you cannot get hold of a business between Christmas and New Year, do you really need them the rest of the year?

Still one of this week’s jobs has been scanning sheep. People have been using ultra-sound to scan sheep to see if they’re in lamb for years. I don’t know whether they started doing it before the NHS did it routinely with women or not. The advantage with sheep is that not only do you have a fair idea whether the ewe is in lamb or not, you also know how many lambs she’s carrying. So a ewe carrying triplets will need a lot higher plane of nutrition than one with a single.

I found a photo on the web for you. The scanner sits alongside the ewe and runs the scanner across the ewe’s tummy in front of the udder. There’s very little wool there anyway so you don’t need to clip it. While he does that he looks at the picture on the monitor and that tells him what’s going on.

What the picture doesn’t show is that sheep scanning tends to be done at this time of year. The scanner, a contractor with all his own tackle, arrives in the yard with a trailer towed by a 4×4. The trailer unpacks so you get a race along which the ewe travels, is scanned and then goes out to rejoin her mates. As well as needing people to keep the sheep moving up the ramp and through the scanner, you also need an artist who stands there with two spray cans of marking paint. We put a red spot on the rump if the ewe is carrying triplets. If she’s barren she gets a red spot on the back of the neck. The other can has green paint in, and a green spot on the rump means she’s carrying a single. Twins don’t get marked up at all, they’re considered the norm.

Because scanning is virtually always done outside, in the cold, and probably the rain as well, the scanner will have a ‘tent’ of sorts to keep the worst of the weather off him and the electronics. For the rest of us we just huddle in our waterproofs with the rain beating on us, trying to keep sheep moving. This they do sporadically. Sometimes they will push past each other in their eagerness to follow along the race (herd animals can be like that.) At other times some idiot ewe will stand in the pen with her rump blocking the entrance to the race, so nobody can get up it.

At this point you’ve got to stop huddling and physically turn her round so she’s pointing in the right direction. At one point yesterday (as a particularly cold rain was blowing across the yard) I heard somebody say to a recalcitrant ewe, “Don’t make me take my hands out of my pockets you auld witch, or you’ll be sorry.”

As always, checking every ewe flags up those who’ll need pampering. One is due to lamb in the next two weeks. This means she managed to get herself pregnant three weeks before the tups went in. So it will be interesting to see just what sort of lambs she has. Anyway at her stage of pregnancy she needs more pampering that she’d get back out in the field. So she’s now inside where we can make sure she gets a high enough quality diet. Because she’s a sheep and they need company, one of the younger hoggs who isn’t in lamb but looks as if it’s finding winter a bit much has been kept in with it. They can keep each other company.

As we walked them back to the field after scanning, every so often a ewe would shake herself, (Just like a dog would.) and a great sheet of water would come off her fleece.

Happy New Year.

♥♥♥♥

You could always check with the expert

As a reviewer commented, “A delightful, chatty collection of jottings, which capture the mindset of sheep and their shepherd on a day to day basis. Thank you for this refreshing ramble in the Cumbrian countryside, Jim!”

Keeping the show on the road

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My Dad entered the job market in the 1930s, which wasn’t perhaps the best time, all things considered. Not only that but given his background he had a choice between going down the mines as an iron ore miner, or farm work, and being the rebel he was, he chose farm work. The wages were far lower, the hours longer, but when you were injured in an industrial accident it was at least above ground.

His first half year, when he was fourteen, earned him the princely sum of £13, plus of course his board. It’s reassuring to know that the great British public have always been careful to ensure those working in food production aren’t lured from the straight and narrow by too much easy money.

But before he started working full time, while he was still at school, he would work for the father of a lad he was at school with. Effectively he made sure he had learned the basics of his trade before he went out to start convincing people to pay him.

His mate’s father had a small farm, so they were never going to make a lot of money. On the other hand, one advantage of a small farm is that you cannot lose a lot of money either. Grow a thousand acres of wheat and lose £100 an acre, you’ve lost a £100,000. Grow ten acres of wheat and lose £150 an acre because you don’t have the economies of scale, you’ve still onely lost £1500.

But back then we’re talking much smaller amounts of money, a farm worker ‘living in’ did well to earn £2 a week.

But my Dad always had an admiration for his mate’s Father. He had a good eye for horses. Not fancy horses, or racehorses or anything like that, he was good with your ordinary work horse. So whilst he farmed in much the same way as everybody around him, he’d keep his eyes open for those working horses that were broken down with hard work. The delivery horses going round town, those owned by companies and used by employees who weren’t perhaps as committed to the horse as an owner-driver might be. He’d give the horse a good looking over first and then he’d buy them at sales or even straight from the company.

Then he’d just let them out into a field with his own working horses and leave them for a while. After a few months he’d harness them up again and start them working a little but nothing strenuous. Then when they were fit and strong again he’d sell them on. Apparently one of his best deals cost him perhaps ten shillings and year later he sold it for £11. But that was the way farmers got through the Great Depression.

There are a lot of tricks like that which have survived, farmers who’ve spotted a niche and have quietly filled it. The best niches are the unfashionable ones which are profitable enough to be worth doing but not so profitable that they tempt others to try and exploit them.

A while back I was chatting to one old farmer who had just sold some remarkably elderly ewes with lambs at foot in the spring sales. He’d also learned his trade from his father who’d learned his in the 1920s and 30s. They’d always bought a few pens of cull ewes when everybody was getting rid of them and the price was rock bottom. They’d worm them, stick them out on some coastal marsh that they had and leave them there to get heavier or whatever.

Unbeknown to him, the previous winter a tup had got in with his collection of old ladies and just when he was about to start selling them fat, they’d started lambing. So he lambed them and sold them with lambs at foot. Given he probably paid a tenner a head he was happy enough to take seventy or eighty pounds for a very elderly ewe with two lambs. His pride and joy was a small ewe with her single lamb who made £60. He’d never actually bought her. She’d come through the ring when he was buying the others. She’d looked so small and pathetic that the vendor couldn’t get a bid for her. So the frustrated vendor had surreptitiously dumped her in with a batch that had already been sold and had quietly disappeared.

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There again, what do I know, talk 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.”

It’s a sheep day

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You can tell it’s on the warm side. Sal has dug herself a shallow depression in the ground to sit in! She’s pleased as punch with it now because it’s probably a bit damp and cool, but this is Cumbria, in another week it’ll be flooded.

So today is a sheep day. Ewes and lambs are gathered in. They were sitting in the shade of hedges, sprawling behind thistles, or alternatively, grazing in the middle of the field with expressions of bland unconcern.
Anyway we fetch them home. The ewes haven’t been clipped yet. This is mainly because firstly it was too wet to shear them, then it was too cold to shear them, then all the shearers were too busy silageing and doing other jobs. But it’s entirely possible that the ewes might get sheared this week.

All the time the thermometer is creeping up. When I walk them in, we have one ewe who is panting like an old dog. She’s obviously feeling the heat. She quietly stands in the shade when we get to the yard and watches us with casual indifference.

So we weigh the heaviest lambs, there are some ready to go. Then we worm the rest of the lambs, check their feet, put some fly spray on them to deter blowfly and stop them getting infested with maggots. Their mothers will be treated later, after they’ve been sheared. In a perfect world, once a sheep is sheared there’s nowhere for the flies to lay their eggs. Then as the wool starts to grow, you can dip them in something that’ll kill all the skin parasites they’ve got and provide them with some protection for the next few weeks.

It’s now distinctly hot, noon arrives and with it both mad dogs and Englishmen retire to the shade with the sheep that we’ve dealt with, leaving us out there to get on with it.

And in the middle of all this lot we get two walkers. Ladies with map and compass who are some distance from their chosen path. No, strangely enough it doesn’t pass over our silage pit. But still, we direct them the best way to pick up the path they’re trying to find and they disappear into the shimmering heat haze. If it gets any hotter, the next party to come this way will be riding camels!

Finally the last ones are done, we put the sheep back out onto grass and they disperse to eat or hide in the shade depending on whim and I’m in to get my dinner.

And somebody tries to interest me in going down to London. They must be mad.

And more wisdom from Sheep?

As a reviewer commented, “Dipping in and out of this book, as ever with Jim Webster’s farming anecdotes, is a great way to relax – although thought provoking at times, despairing at others, the humour is ever present, and how welcome is that in these times?”

Dulce et decorum est

 

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This time of year can be difficult for the diligent Border Collie. All these charming lambs scampering about might look delightful but they’ve got no respect. As old Jess would doubtless have said, if she could be bothered lowering herself to communicating verbally, “If you haven’t got respect, you’ve got nothing.”

From the working canine viewpoint lambs are a nightmare. They don’t know the rules; they are as likely to walk up to the dog to see what’s going on as they are to run away. Then when they do run away they do so apparently at random and at speed.

Added to this, when they’re still young, if the dog gets too close, Mum is going to march up and stamp her foot at you. It’s not the foot stamping that’s the problem; it’s the fact that she too is now moving in exactly the opposite direction to that intended, or not moving at all.

Once lambs get to a certain age Mum seems to relinquish her defensive role. Whether she reckons they’re big enough or fast enough to look after themselves I don’t know.

The other problem is that lambs play. One time we were fetching a mixed batch of ewes and lambs down a lane. One of the lambs (twenty kilos in weight so no longer winningly cute) kept running back the way the flock had come. Nel, who was a properly trained sheepdog, would run after it, turn it, and bring it back. The lamb did this three times, running poor Nel ragged. On the fourth attempt the lamb found old Jess standing in front of it. Jess merely snapped, her teeth meeting so close to the lamb’s nose that it must have felt the draught. The lamb stared at Jess, shrugged, turned round and trotted on with the rest. You got the feeling the lamb felt it wasn’t fun any more.

But let’s just run through today’s simple task ‘looking sheep.’ First I have to take some feed to the ewes and lambs in the field behind the farm. These are a mixture of the ewes who lambed last (so still need a bit of feed) plus ‘pet lambs’ who somehow misplaced their mother. Or perhaps their mother misplaced them. Either way they’ve been bottle reared and are now out on grass but are too small to play with the grown-ups. They also need something to make up for the fact that they’re not getting any milk from mum.

This is easily done, I walk into the field and they come across to see me and I just put the feed down in small piles. Sal, providing as she does, the canine oversight, has nothing to do and just wanders off to one side, nose to the ground, working out what happened last night.

Then I have to take slightly more feed to the rest of the sheep. This means I have to pass through those I’ve already fed. They’re still eating so aren’t interested. Except, that is, for two of the oldest ‘pet lambs’ who immediately abandon the others and follow me. They’ve worked out that if they look suitably pathetic then I’ll give them something out of the bag I’m carrying. These two are both ewe lambs and are being reared with the idea of them joining the flock and having lambs of their own. Because they’re hand-reared they’ll be a little more domesticated than the rest, which is a mixed blessing. Yes they’ll be easy to handle, but because they’ll follow when they should be driven and doubtless give cheek to the dog, they can also confuse the rest of the flock. Still I give them a little more feed and go into the next field.

At this point the others see me. So far things have been pretty decorous. I think the sheep in the smaller group have worked out that I’m leaving them plenty. In the big group they’re only getting a handful each. They’ve worked out that the last sheep to Jim isn’t going to get anything. So I’m making my way through a surging sea of sheep who frankly don’t care. They’re banging against me and ricocheting off each other. When you get a really large number of sheep being fed it’s not unusual for people to be knocked down. This tends to happen when a ewe moving at speed hits you on the back of the legs at knee height.

Still I keep my feet. Sal watches this from afar. She’s going wide, bimbling about out on one flank. Occasionally she’ll find a ewe or lamb who is either fast asleep and hasn’t noticed my arrival, or alternatively is feeling under the weather and doesn’t care. In the latter case you look them over and perhaps come back later with quad and trailer if they need catching and treating.

Then suddenly we have a problem. Sal wandered through a gate and across the bridge assuming I was going that way. But I’m not. So she has to get back through the gate to follow me. Unfortunately there’s a mob of ewes standing near the gate watching her suspiciously.

For Sal this presents a problem. A Border Collie has no problems slipping through the bars of the gate. It’s just that you don’t want to be squirming through them with a rabble of belligerent ewes present. Sal is in a similar position to the young lady in a short shirt, trying to exit the sports car with dignity under the eyes of the drinkers in the pub beer garden. I can see her pondering the situation. Eventually she abandons the idea, makes her way down to the next bridge and wiggles through that gate before catching up with me. Job done, home for the next job.

 

I don’t know whether you know, but a collection of similar stories appeared under the name ‘Sometimes I sits and thinks.’

 

Available as an ebook for a mere 99p.

 

Shaking hands with a traffic warden

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The day you get need not necessarily be the day that you expected when you woke up. Certainly Sal had an interesting morning. I was feeding sheep and a lamb attacked her. In this case the ‘lamb’ weighed forty kilos and is nearly a year old. It was standing a couple of yards away from her and suddenly put its head down and charged her.

Of course she wasn’t there when the lamb arrived, just body swerving to allow it to go past. So for the next ten minutes they played together, the lamb prancing and charging it, and Sal quietly avoiding it and then loitering so that the lamb was tempted to have another go. This game amused them both until I fired up the quad ready to go to feed the next bunch and Sal abandoned her playmate to come with me.

And then we had one old ewe who had a somewhat rude awaking. The next bunch we had to feed consisted of fifteen ewes and their new-born lambs. Fourteen ewes saw me (and Sal) and thundered downhill to be the first to get to the feed. The problem is there was no sign of the fifteenth. So Sal and I wandered over the crest of the hill and there was our errant ewe, fast asleep in the sun, topping up her tan. Sal wandered across, the ewe’s two lambs scurried off to one side, then stopped to watch with interest what happened next. The ewe was awakened by a Border Collie bitch sniffing her nose. She leapt to her feet and ran to join the others.

‘A good job done’, I thought to myself. She’s bound to join the others and get her share of the feed.

By the time Sal and I crossed the crest again, the bluidy auld witch had gone and panicked the others and they’d all abandoned the feed and were forming a vaguely defensive clump fifty yards from it. Fortunately when they saw Sal the clump shuffled, in a somewhat embarrassed fashion, away from her and incidentally back to the feed.

And then that done I had to nip some meat in to the local homeless centre. Basically, having seen the meat our local homeless centre could afford (It’s a charity supported by donations) I was left feeling it must be bad enough being homeless without having to eat that stuff. So to cut a long story short I had a word with a butcher I knew and just bought a full forequarter from him. (Buy a full forequarter and it’s surprising how good a deal you’ll get.) Mainly it’s mince and stewing steak, there aren’t many joints at the front end. Then I phoned and emailed friends in various churches and elsewhere and told them what I’d done and would they like to chip in. Since then we’ve been on a roll and have kept them in beef. Ironically when the horsemeat scandal broke it struck me that in this town, the Homeless were eating better meat that a lot of people who were considerably wealthy.

But anyway I tend to store the beef in a freezer here and just drop a month’s supply off at a time (it means they have freezer space ready for your donation.)

So I drove into town with the beef. As I made my way down the street to them there was a traffic warden looking with disfavour at a builder’s van parked illegally outside the centre. The manager was there and discussions were underway. I parked down the back street and carried my two bags of meat into the centre. As I passed the traffic warden I gestured back to my car and said ‘I’m just dropping off, I’ll be gone soon.’

The warden just grinned and said, “Worrying about people carrying bits of cut up dead bodies in and out of homeless centres isn’t part of my job.”

Humour from a traffic warden? I took the meat in, handed it over to the kitchen staff and made my way out. The builder was now present and manager, builder and traffic warden were in deep conversation.

The traffic warden said, “Why don’t you just stick your van down the side street where he’s parked.” With this he pointed at me. “He’s just leaving.”
Keen to seem helpful I said, “Yes, I’m just leaving.”

“Can I?” Asked the builder.

“No problem.” And with this the traffic warden started to cancel the ticket. Then conversationally the traffic warden commented, “I had my formal appraisal yesterday. I was torn off a strip for two things. Firstly I’m too lenient.” Here he paused and looked at the ticket he’d just cancelled. “And then they tore a strip off me because I’m too strict.”

The manager asked, “Would you like a cup of tea or coffee?” There was a general feeling that he probably needed one.

“I’m sorry I cannot have one whilst I’m on duty. I’m not allowed to cross the threshold.”

Without thinking I said, “But even vampires can cross the threshold if they’re invited.”

I then contemplated what I’d just said.

And the traffic warden burst out laughing, shook my hand and said he’d have to remember that one.

♥♥♥♥

Should you wish to spend more time with Sal

(Available in paperback or as an e-book)

As a reviewer commented, “Excellent follow up to his first collection of bloggage – Sometimes I Sits and Thinks – this is another collection of gentle reflections on life on a small sheep farm in Cumbria. This could so easily be a rant about inconsiderate drivers on country lanes and an incessant moaning about the financial uncertainties of life on a farm. Instead, despite the rain, this is full of wise asides on modern living that will leave you feeling better about the world. Think Zen and the Art of Sheep Management (except he’s clearly CofE…) Highly recommended, and worth several times the asking price!”

The milk of human kindness

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With cattle, especially dairy cows, you tend to deal with them as individuals quite a lot of the time. As you get to know them, you learn their little idiosyncrasies. Some are brighter than others, some curious, some laid back and placid. With sheep for the vast majority of the time they manage to blend into the flock and you tend to deal with an ‘average’ intellect. Admittedly it’s not a very high average, but at least sheep can console themselves that, by and large, they’re smarter than horses.

But at lambing you start dealing with individual sheep, and at this point you realise that the average rather flatters a lot of them.

This afternoon I noticed a ewe had lambed. I could see the two lambs snuggled up under the hedge. So I got the quad and trailer out and went to collect them. They were in a different field to the rest of the flock so I shut the gate behind me to ensure that they didn’t come streaming in behind me looking for food and getting in the way.

I then parked the trailer handy for the lambs, picked up the lambs, and walking backwards so mum could see them at all times, carried them to the trailer. Mum followed briefly before setting off at speed to look for them somewhere else entirely. Indeed she had obviously decided they’d rejoined the flock because when she found the gate was shut she crashed through the fence instead.

So now I had to get all of them into the yard to sort out our doting mother. And as they entered the yard she knocked down a hurdle and led them onto the lane instead. Some of them followed a bucket back but the others had to be brought back by the simple expedient of overtaking them on the quad and driving them back.

All this has to be done tactfully because in spite of the fact they seem to have forgotten this small technical detail; they’re all heavily in lamb and ought to behave sensibly. As I overtook one of them, I was close enough to notice that her eye looked a bit milky. When they’re in the field sheep aren’t keen on you getting too close, and this was something you could only see when you were a couple of yards away at most. It struck me she might be having problems with that eye and I’d better treat her.

When they were running back I watched out for the one with eye problems. As it ran into the yard it careered full tilt into a gate stoop that it had obviously not seen. By the look of it, we definitely had a sheep with eye problems (and probable concussion.)

So I sorted mum out into a pen and put the others back into the field. By this time the rain had started. I then backed the trailer to the pen gate and got mum into it with the two lambs. She appeared vaguely pleased to see them. I drove the trailer round to the other pens where she’ll stay until we’re convinced she’s looking after them properly and there was this bumping sound from the trailer. Oh joy, a flat tyre.

I backed the trailer up to the other pens, got her into one, got her two lambs in with her and shut the gate before she thought of anything else stupid to do.

Then it was a case of putting the trailer handy for taking the wheel off tomorrow morning, put the quad away and then go and get some colostrum into our two newcomers.
Now they’re fed, snug and happy, mum is beaming at them, and I’m wet, cold and hungry. At times like this you have to ask yourself which is the intelligent species.

♥♥♥♥

Oh and if you are feeling particularly intelligent you might or might not have noticed that I produced a slim volume of these blog posts, nicely tidied up and with grammar, punctuation and everything. It’s available in paperback or as an ebook

 

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.”

Do they know it’s Christmas?

A man walks his sheep in a water-logged paddy field after recent
You have to admit that Sheep are not perhaps the brightest of God’s creatures. Now this isn’t blind prejudice, this is bitter experience talking. I willingly admit that by preference I’m a cattle man. Indeed in my world the term ‘cowboy’ is a professional designation, not a term of abuse hurled at a builder.

But still even sheep have their moments. Somewhere in that complex morass of instincts, pre-programmed subroutines and overriding urges to die, there appear to be occasional flashes of thought.

Last night it was pretty grim, storm Barbara came through with constant strong winds and occasional rain. Admittedly the rain wasn’t constant, but at one point it was a wall of water blasting across the yard. Still we’ve got small fields and pretty well anybody left outside can get decent shelter.
But this morning when I went to check sheep the last bunch I looked at was a bunch of old ewes down on our bottom ground. It doesn’t flood, but it can stand water, and it can be pretty squelchy under foot.

So as I squelched my way across it, accompanied by Sal who is a Border Collie bitch who doesn’t particularly like walking through water. Anyway we finally found the ewes, they’d obviously taken one look at the weather, decided that the other four horsemen of the Apocalypse would be along any minute and had headed for higher ground. Now to be fair it wasn’t all that much higher, but it is sandy and is firmer under foot. So it’s probably more comfortable for them.

So there they stood, glaring at Sal. She wandered closer to them, following one scent or another and one ewe had the temerity to stamp a front foot at her. Now you do have to worry about the survival abilities of a species where the first line of defence is to emulate the toddler tantrum and stamp your foot at somebody. Mind you their second line of defence is to lower their head and charge things.

A neighbour had a couple of Shetland ponies, and in winter we’d let them into a field of ours. It gave his paddock a rest and it wasn’t as if two Shetlands are going to do any damage to seven acres of grass.

But this particular winter we had a cow who’d fallen and done the splits. She was now out on grass recovering, with a couple of calves on her to drink the milk. Each day I’d walk across the field to give her some feed. Each day, old Boz, our dog at the time would accompany me, and each day one of the ponies would attack Boz.

Now the pony was a little thug (Shetlands suffer from this) and would just put his head down and charge the dog. Unfortunately from the pony’s point of view, a charging Shetland appears to have the turning circle of an oil tanker. Boz didn’t actually condescend to notice his attack. The old dog would just speed up very slightly, or slow down very slightly, and the pony would miss and would go thundering past and would take fifty yards to slow down, turn round, and aim for the next attack.

Mind you it isn’t just the lesser breeds without the law who use this form of attack; I’ve had cattle charge me. On one occasion we were getting twenty-two dairy heifers out of a field. Lassie, my dog at the time, fetched them down the field to the gate, and twenty-one went through the gate and one turned in the gateway and ran back up the hill. This heifer was, to use a technical term, ‘radged’. It was a certifiable nutcase, and its bad attitude ensured that it was destined for burgers not breeding. Lassie ran across the front of it to turn it. It ran over her. Lassie ran back across the front of it and grabbed its nose. Heifer shook its head and Lassie flew across the field, back feet first.

The dog had had enough. She hurled herself at the heifer’s back feet and dogged it all the way up the field, turned it against a big hedge, and dogged it all the way back down the hill to the gate. In the gateway the heifer turned on her heels and charged over the dog and back up the hill. Lassie set off after her again.

In this process I’d been running up and down the hill, trying to keep up with the action and if possible help the dog. Finally I caught up with them and it was like the start of the Shootout at the OK Corral. The dog and the heifer were staring each other out, neither wanting to make the first move, but both determined they weren’t going to back down. Then when I appeared the heifer saw me and decided I was the easier target. So she put her head down and charged me. As she came at me I could see she was so tired she was swaying so I just sidestepped and pushed her over. She went down in a snotty heap and I knelt on her head to hold her down until somebody fetched a rope and we led her out of the field on the rope.

 

Anyway, I hope you all have a good Christmas and hope that any problems that crop up are soluble in sherry and good company.

Rather than a card I thought I’d send you a Christmas Present. If you click on the link below you should download one of my shorter short stories as a free pdf

a-nice-devotion

 

All the best.