Tag Archives: herdwicks

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.

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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/

Wool gathering

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Somebody was commenting about wool prices and how much wool was worth.

Well at the bottom end of the market a Herdwick fleece can weigh up to 2kg and is worth perhaps 25pence per kilo. So your hard won fleece could be worth a whole 50p

Jacobs, popular with smallholders and others have a better quality fleece, perhaps worth 45p a kilo. A nice fleece can weigh 2.5kg so you’re in the big money with a fleece worth perhaps £1.12.

If you look at a breed like the Romney, the wool is better again, I’ve seen Romney fleeces valued at £1.25 a kilo, and with a 3kg fleece this can bring in the magnificent sum of £3.75. Obviously the prices change year on year, but generally better wool is worth more.

The fly in this particular ointment is that paying somebody to shear your sheep is probably going to cost about £1.20 a head. Things are better than they were. Unless you’re unlucky or have a lot of mountain breeds, your wool cheque has a chance of paying the bill for clipping.  The obvious thing to do is to have some nice sheep with nice wool, keep it really clean and consider supplying the hand spinners

 

The problem with wool is that it’s no longer worth most farmers breeding for wool quality.

If you are on the rough hills then you’ve got Herdwicks, or Swaledales or similar. The whole breed is about survival and producing a good mother who can raise decent lambs. If you’re in the lowlands, meat is king, it’s what pays the bills. The big of money you get for the wool isn’t worth making any changes in the breed that might reduce its potential in important areas.

Obviously in the past it was different. If you read the Cadfael Chronicles by Ellis Peters

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cadfael_Chronicles

 

then you’ll see the old way where wool was so valuable castrated male lambs were kept for several years just for shearing for wool, rather than slaughtering them for the meat.

Things got so bad with wool prices that people started breeding sheep that shed their wool, one breed, the Easy Care, sheds its wool. If you look in the photograph at the top you’ll see how there is still a bit of wool left on their backs but the rest has already fallen away naturally.

Now the price of wool has picked up a bit, for anybody but the rough hill breeds it does at least pay the cost of clipping. But unlike in my grandfather’s early days it’ll never pay the rent.

 

But if you’re interested in wool, you’d do worse than visit Woolfest next year

https://www.woolfest.co.uk/

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Or you could solicit the opinion of one who knows?

 

 

The fourth of these collections of anecdotes, rants, pious maunderings and general observations on life. Yes we have dogs, quads, sheep and cattle, but in this one we follow the ‘lambing year.’ It starts with ewes being put to the tup in late autumn and finishes in summer with the last of the laggards lambing.
But as well as this we have endless rain, as well as sleeping in a manger. Be brave and you’ll meet young ladies in high heeled cowboy boots, Sir John Moore of Corunna, brassieres for cows, and, incidentally, David Essex.

 

As a reviewer commented, “Yet another quiet, but highly entertaining, amble through Jim Webster’s farming life, accompanied by Sal, his collie extraordinarie.
Sheep, cattle, government eccentricities and wry observations are all included”

Going home

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Well the wintering Swaledales have gone home. I’ve borrowed an appropriate photo of sheep belonging to somebody else. It’s suitably scenic. The hoggs that were with us had to leave because in the next week the field they’ve been in over winter will hopefully be ploughed for potatoes. It’s very much a tale of two Cumbrias at the moment.

The pickup and trailer that came to collect them had snow on it. The snow was melting and leaving pools of water under the vehicles. Here our snow is limited to an ‘icing sugar effect’ which disappeared by coffee time. There are times when people contact me and ask how we’re doing because they’ve heard that villages in Cumbria are cut off. The last time that happened the village that was cut off was still in Cumbria but was ninety miles away from us and well over a thousand feet up. Here our spot height is less than a hundred feet and we’ve got the sea on three sides.

Still one advantage of this diversity in the county is that it allows young female hill sheep can migrate downhill onto lowland farms. This has advantages for everybody. The sheep eat up the last of the previous year’s grass, which means your next year’s silage is better than it would be, because it’s all young grass when you mow it.
From the point of view of the sheep farmer, if his hoggs stayed at home, there’s not a lot of anything to feed them. So they’d have to get a lot of bought in feed which is expensive. So with wintering them away they come back bigger and fitter than they would have done if you’d tried to keep them at home, and ideally what you pay for wintering is less that what you’d pay to feed them at home.

As it is, the wintered sheep don’t have to get used to a new diet, they can continue just doing what they do best, which is eating grass. So when they get home and go back out onto your grass they don’t have a period of readjustment. They can just get on with eating and growing.

Back here, ewes are still lambing. They don’t appear to be in any rush, and for some reason a large proportion seem to decide that late afternoon is the perfect time. The strange thing is that whilst they have a lot of yard to wander about on and silage feeders to graze from, they also have the lambing shed left open so they can go in there where it’s warm. Some of them do. I suspect that once they’ve had a feed of silage they like to go somewhere snug to digest it. But do the ewes who’re lambing in the afternoon go into the lambing shed where it’s snug and out of the wind? Of course not, that would be too easy. So they’ll lamb outside where we’ve got to move fast before the lamb gets chilled.

At the moment we’ve got a mixture of singles, twins and triplets lambing. A ewe can only really feed two lambs, because they only have two teats. So ideally a carrying a single lamb and a ewe carrying triplets lamb at the same time on the same day and you can pinch one of the triplets off its mum when she’s not looking and give it to the mum with the single.

If they’re both lambing at the same time and you’ve got amniotic fluid all over everything, you can often get away with it. But if the lamb being added onto the single is dry, having been born yesterday, it’s a lot more hit and miss. If you’re fast enough and get there with the lamb in time to soak it in amniotic fluid from its new mum, and even drape a bit of afterbirth artistically over it so she gets to lick it clean again, then you’re in with a chance. This is called ‘wet fostering’ and you can see why. When it works it’s great because it’s comparatively quick and easy.

But if the ewe remains suspicious then you have to take more time over them. First stage can be just putting a halter on the ewe, with one end tied to the gate of her pen. This way she can shift about, her movement isn’t restricted much, but she cannot chase the new lamb away or attack it. After a few days the new lamb will smell of her and she’ll accept it anyway.

Or alternatively if the halter isn’t working you have to put the ewe in the ‘stocks’. Here she can stand up and sit down without problems. But she cannot see her lambs so she doesn’t know which lamb is suckling her, so she cannot attack the ‘wrong one’. This means that both lambs can feed safely and after a couple of days (or longer with particularly obdurate ewes) the lamb smells of new mum and she’s happy to accept it and they can go out into the wide world and play happy families together.

Anyway back to the wintering hoggs. It’s always good when fell sheep like these go home. The problem with them is that they have no real concept of hedges and fences. Herdwicks are the worst, they just escape. We were lucky these little Swaledales didn’t actually get out on us. I did have to nip in three or four times to fix gaps in the wire they’d found, but that was the limit to it. We wintered Herdwicks one year. Before Christmas they were fine. We had no problems. After New Year I don’t think any of them bothered staying in the correct field for a whole afternoon! As I said, we only wintered Herdwicks once.

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There again, you could talk to the expert. Available in paperback or ebook

As a reviewer said, “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.”

Roe deer and Herdwicks, oh my.

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This afternoon the weather had somehow overlooked us. So far today it has neither rained, snowed nor pelted us with hail. Given that yesterday had managed all three plus thunder and lightening, we were really expecting fog or perhaps a rain of frogs today. So mere weak sunshine seemed something of an anticlimax.

Still I took advantage of the freak weather to walk down to the bottom land and see what things were like. In theory we could be putting ewes and lambs down there in a month so it’s always a good idea to check what conditions are like.
It’s heavy land, we rarely had cattle on after October, unless it was a particularly fine and dry back end. This year the sheep came off early in November. The result is that when I went down, whilst there was a lot of standing water, nothing was paddled. Also there was some grass. It’s managed to very slowly keep growing and provided things go sensibly for the next month, it should be fit to put sheep on. We just need some dry weather for a change.

Mind you, as soon as I got down there, Sal set off and three Herdwick hoggs came running up out of a beck edge where they’d been hiding. They were nothing to do with us. I did, once, take in wintering Herdwicks. Keeping them in is like trying to wheel smoke in a barrow. They’re fell sheep and whilst they might indeed be hefted to a particular bit of fell, that fell is the far side of Coniston at the moment and probably covered in snow.

Herdwicks down in the lowlands are a bit like vets at a conference somewhere. Relieved of all responsibility for being in the right place at the right time vets tend to hit the bar and Herdwicks tend to just go where they want, ignoring fences, becks, or whatever.

So the three hoggs set off with Sal following them. Close enough to keep them moving but not so close that they’d panic. I followed at a more sedate pace, getting a feel for the ground and looking for grass. Eventually I almost caught up with them and stopped. The Herdwicks had halted and were watching Sal with a degree of nervousness. Off to one side, well out of the way, were a pair of Roe deer who were watching both Sal and the Herdwicks with benign curiosity. They gave the impression that they were fans of ‘One man and his dog’ and were waiting for the bit where I whistled just so and Sal would put one hogg in one field whilst loading the other two into a quad trailer.

I just shouted “Send them on Sal,” and she advanced on the hoggs who turned and fled across the beck to join their less adventurous flock mates. The Roe deer, doubtless disappointed that I’d sunk so far as to use voice commands, faded seamlessly away into the hedges and rushes.

Sal trotted back to me with the look of a dog who’s quite enjoyed her afternoon.

♥♥♥♥

But as an aside, it struck me that I’d not yet got round to mentioning that I’ve got another novella out.

 

  Tallis Steelyard and the sedan chair caper.

 

Rather than his usual collection of anecdotes, this time Tallis presents us with one gripping escapade. A tale of adventure, duplicity and gentility. Why does an otherwise respectable lady have a pair of sedan chair bearers hidden in her spare bedroom? Why was the middle aged usurer brandishing an axe? Can a gangster’s moll be accepted into polite society? Answer these questions and more as Tallis Steelyard ventures unwillingly into the seedy world of respectable ladies who love of sedan chair racing.

 

Available for the discerning and undiscerning alike at

 

As a reviewer commented, “In this entertaining book by Jim Webster, the reader is treated to the ins and outs of sedan chair racing in Port Naain. Sedan chair racing comprises of chairs, transporting various wealthy ladies of impeccable social standing, borne by fit young men called sedan chair bearers, which raced each other through the streets. The ladies are not at all good sports and all sorts of interesting cheats take place during these races which are bet on by those in the city with a propensity for gambling.

We are introduced to a number of intriguing characters. Mistress Bream is one, an elderly lady whose decreased mobility is depriving her of the fun and social interaction she yearns for. Her various supporters arrange to have a special chair with wheels built for her and Tallis, a poet and the hero of the story, is invited to visit and view her new acquisition. This is the start of an extraordinary tale the results in Tallis seeing Mistress Bream’s son chasing a pair of sedan chair bearers with an axe and being coerced into finding out what has caused this odd behaviour. Tallis’ quest for the truth of the matter leads him to meeting Mistress Graan, the wife of a local gangster, who wishes to be seen as more cultured. Tallis agrees to assist her with hosting a poets soiree and he soon becomes embroiled in her ambitions, including her desires with regards to the sedan chair racing in the city.”

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

 

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There again what do I know?

 

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, “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.”

Evaporating Herwicks and other stories

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Sunday morning was a bit hectic. I got my baby ‘pet lambs’ fed (these are the ones who still get milk) but then had to dash off to church because as well as the normal service we had an extra one. Our village lost two lads in the First World War, and this week was the centenary of the death of one of them. The families had asked if we could do a special memorial service and so we did.

Anyway walking home from church I got to our yard gate to discover a herdwick ewe with two lambs standing there. We don’t have any herdwicks. We’re far too close to sea level and the grass is too rich and I suspect even the air is too dense. I looked at this outfit with interest. She was a herdwick but her lambs weren’t. Had she lost her own and somebody had fostered these onto her or had she just been bred to a lowland tup?
Anyway I got her and her two lambs in a field with our last three ewes to lamb and the older pet lambs who no longer need milk. I phoned a couple of neighbours to see if anybody was short of a ewe and then went to get a bit of dinner. At about 1:30pm I fed the bunch the herdwick had joined. She was sitting there quite happily with her two lambs. At 3pm I had to walk through that bunch and discovered the herdwick wasn’t there. She’d gone.

Now that field is stock proof. No sheep have escaped from there in nearly two years now. But then she’s a herdwick. Spring has sprung and they get the urge to head uphill, to where the air is thinner and the grass is coarse. When faced with fences sheep cannot get through, I’ve come to the conclusion herdwicks merely evaporate to re-manifest somewhere less convenient.

Animals do get this urge to travel at times. We once had a large black dairy cow calving. She wasn’t getting anywhere so I tied it up in the calving box to give it a hand. Anyway after faffing about for a while I decided she needed somebody more competent than me, so I would get the vet. I untied her (just in case she went down when she was untended,) and went to phone. I didn’t bother her after that, because given peace and quiet she might have got on with it.

So when the vet arrived we went up to the calving box and discovered she’d gone. She’d jumped over the gate and headed who knows where? It was past 11pm, on a dark (but not stormy) night. So we took a guess on the direction she probably went. There were hoof prints in a gateway where there shouldn’t be hoof prints so we went into the field to look for her. Unfortunately we’d just made round baled silage. So the field was full of big black round bales. Driving round in the dark searching for a black cow amongst a lot of black bales is a somewhat surreal experience. Fortunately we found her, got her home and all the movement and bouncing about had been useful. She’d opened up a lot more and the vet had comparatively little trouble getting the calf out. We put her and her calf in a pen with a lot higher gate and left her to get on with the whole motherhood experience.

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Speak to the expert

 

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.