Tag Archives: mud

Agricultural Epidemiology and going back to school

Looking round yesterday everybody was busy. Combining, baling and carting straw, baling and carting round bale silage, each one was working flat out. I suspect the average age of drivers was a lot lower than what it’ll be next week when so many of them go back to school.

It’s been an ‘interesting’ harvest round here. We tend to be later than further south, and as August gets blown into September the whole thing can be pretty much catch as catch can. I noticed one field where the combine was leaving muddy wheel marks behind it. This isn’t a good sign.

I saw another field being scaled out for silage. The chap does try and make a bit of hay, because we’ve a decent trade locally selling it for horses. But whilst he’s managed to make some beautiful stuff this year on other fields, the weather was never right long enough to mow this one. Now he’s got a field of elderly grass that he’s mown. I felt some of it by the gate. Late August sunshine is never going to kill it, and indeed he rowed it up not long afterwards and it’s baled and wrapped. It’s just one of the gambles of farming. If he’d had a fine week in the last month and a half, he’d have produced something which would have been sought after, as a lot of horse people don’t want ‘seeds hay’ but prefer something older because they worry about the horse having digestion problems. Now he’s got some moderate round bale silage. A lot of horse people turn their noses up at it because of the danger of mould. So he’s probably hoping for a long winter then somebody will buy it off him for feeding big rough store cattle who will eat anything and thrive. The problem with agriculture is that the Bank will ask us to do a business plan, but to produce one that has even the most tenuous connection to reality, you really have to sit down with God and have him feed in his side of the job.

This set me off thinking about a lot of the tractor drivers working at the moment. I know lads who’ve not been at school since March and have been working seven days a week since then. One lad has effectively been half of a contracting business. Dad would drop him off at the farm with tractor and slurry tanker and leave him to it. My guess is that the tractor had ten horsepower for every year of the driver’s age. But having watched him at work, he’s perfectly competent. What intrigues me is how he’ll cope when he has to go back to being a schoolboy having been treated as a proper adult for the last five or so months. Looking at the forecast, I can see a lot of Dads asking their lady wife to phone the school to express doubts about the safety of their son going to school, what with the virus and everything. Or perhaps they might suggest she explain to the head that they’ve just come back from a heifer sale in France and have to quarantine for a fortnight? Otherwise they won’t get the straw cleared before the weather breaks.

Mind you, schools appear to be suffering from epidemiologists at the moment. We’ve seen them when they inflict farming. In the middle of a disease outbreak they’ll appear and put in place systems which they assure everybody will halt the disease in its tracks.
If you try to explain that the suggestions are impractical, impossible to implement, or just counterproductive the normal response you get is that ‘farming ought to become a modern industry’ and ‘if you cannot keep up, perhaps it’s time you left the industry.’

And now teachers have got them. I extend my genuine sympathy to every teacher and head who is trying to work out how on earth you follow the advice. (To be fair, you’re lucky it’s only advice, in agriculture, we just get regulation. But then they know we just ignore advice that is so bad that it’s just silly.)

I was talking to a friend. He has had to work all the way through the whole mess. Ships don’t build themselves and you can hardly take home a section of hull to work on in the back garden. So on the first day of school his lady wife has been instructed by the school that their two sons, aged four and six, have to be at school at exactly 9:30am. But because of bubbles etc., one of them has to be presented at the door at one end of the school and one has to be presented at the door at the other end of the school. (And don’t fetch the wrong child to the wrong door, perhaps because the bubble will pop.)
Alas for the epidemiologists, these two small boys share the same bedroom, use the same bathroom, and eat their breakfast at the same table.

There again somebody was telling me about her daughter’s dancing class. The hall has tape on the floor and each child (from what she said I doubt any of them are much over 12) has to dance in the socially distanced box created by the tape. The exceptions being when they’re taught those dances which you dance in pairs. When learning those dances two girls dance together in one box. Let’s not beat about the bush here, I’m not sure you can dance a socially distances waltz or tango.

Mind you, there’s one positive thing I’ve noticed. If you watched the responses to YouGov surveys, all through this summer, when asked about lockdown, the largest number of people asked always wanted the lockdown increased in severity. But last week when asked about opening schools I noticed that over 70% wanted all children to go back to school. Whether people are beginning to get over their fears, or are just desperate to get their children out from under their feet I don’t know.

Yesterday as Sal and I arrived back from feeding heifers, Sal noticed that some milk had been poured down a drain. (A cow had just calved and the first few milkings don’t get put into the tank.) Billy had found prime position for reaching into the drain to lap it up.

Sal walked behind him, put her nose between his back legs, and lifted him out of the way. Billy, somewhat indignant picked himself up and watched her. Sal then went to take his position so she could lap up some milk. But even as she took up position she stopped. I think she realised that she would leave herself open to Billy getting his own back. So she went round to the other side of the drain which wasn’t quite such a good place. But at least she could lap the milk and keep an eye on Billy at the same time.

Sal has learned that you cannot take the micky and not expect people to get their own back.

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, “A collection of blog posts that give a real insight into the harsh world of a small farmer. But this book is much more than that, imbued as it is with Jim’s trademark sly humour and his evident love of his countryside and his livestock. Excellent holiday reading.”

A ditch in time


I can just about remember them digging out our beck. It was some time in the very early 1960s. My memories of what it was like before are hazy, I can remember sitting on a trailer being pulled by a tractor and going over one of the bridges. I can remember looking down through one of the holes in the trailer floor and seeing the water below me through one of the holes in the bridge.

I remember being told that there were beck boards, which may have been a version of the ‘internal drainage boards’. These used to look after the beck. Apparently they were the local landowners who were allowed to collect a rate from other landowners and they spent the money on maintenance. Being landowners and knowing how the universe worked, they didn’t spend all the money they collected but they put some into reserves because everybody needs reserves. Then the distant ancestor of the Environmental Agency stepped in. They took over all the functions, plus the cash stashed away, and in our case they made our beck deeper and wider. Looking at the cross section I always supposed it was dug by somebody who had a ‘good war’ digging anti-tank ditches and decided to revisit the glories of his earlier career.

When I was young, like about eight or nine, I can remember going down to the beck, sitting under one of the bridges and looking at the young plaice on the sandy/muddy bed. They were the size of half-a-crown. We even got eels.

Indeed I can remember being with my father as he cleaned some of the field drains out and we watched water running up the drain from the beck. My father commented that, “It’s high tide, stick your finger in the water and lick it.”
The water was salt.

Then for some reason those in authority decided to put a sluice on the seaward end of the beck. I haven’t a clue why, but then ‘The man from Whitehall knows best’ and since when was it the job of the bureaucracy to explain its decisions to the people the decisions would impact on?
Anyway that rather screwed things for the plaice and eels. Not only that but the beck then started getting choked up with vegetation because it didn’t have salt water washing up it regularly.

Somebody who farmed nearer the sea than us used to quietly prop the sluice gate open with a length of old fence post which helped a bit, but then the authorities went into major engineering and put a complicated double sluice on it.

But of course they now had to clean out the beck every year. To be fair in the days of the National Rivers Authority they did. But then the Environment Agency took over. The NRA was largely civil engineering led, the EA wasn’t and discovered that you could stop clearing out becks and rivers and say it was environmental and you were saving the earth as well as being able to spend your budget on more fashionable stuff.
So could they please be properly environmental and blow up the sluices so we go back to the nice self-cleaning beck we had for centuries, and of course we’d get the plaice and the eels back as well.

But one way or another I’ve spent too much time in the beck. We fence it. Cattle and sheep still find a way in, and probably most of them find a way out, but there’s always that one idiot.

If you ever have to get a cow out of a ditch there are basically three points of attachment. One is to put a halter on the animal and pull her head first, very very carefully. Personally this isn’t a technique I could use if I could use any other. But there are times when there is only you and the only thing you can get to is the head.

Then there is the cow lifting hoist frame which clamps to the hips. This is probably the safest for everybody but you really have to have a frame and not everybody does. You can clamp the frame to the animal’s hips and pull carefully. Indeed if you have a tractor with a loader you can fasten the frame to the loader and lift as well as pulling.

Finally there is putting the rope under the animal’s chest immediately behind its front legs. Personally I feel it is probably the easiest on the animal, but be seriously careful. The big danger is that the animal might panic and try and climb on you to get herself unstuck. Lying on the bank and pushing the rope under her, then lying on her to get the rope out the other side is probably best. But in these circumstances you might want somebody holding on to your feet. But then it’s the sort of job you end up doing on your own because your co-worker is a dog and frankly she’s not at her best in these circumstances.

We had a cow stuck in the beck. She didn’t come in for morning milking, I was about sixteen and wasn’t in school because it was exam season, so I went down to look for her whilst my father milked. I found her and we stopped milking and went to pull her out. Getting your tractor, ropes and everything sorted and actually pulling her out isn’t a minute’s job and about an hour later we had a wet muddy cow shivering in the field. So I fixed the fence where she’d gone in and walked her home as my Dad went back home on the tractor to get on with milking.

Next morning, she didn’t turn up again, and I found her about six feet from where I’d found her the previous day. Somebody or something had broken a fence post. This time I’d taken a halter and put it on her and pulled so she was tied to a fence post and couldn’t drown or do anything silly. Then the minute milking was finished we went to pull her out.
An hour later, as I walked her in, I was met by my mother. Apparently I was supposed to be sitting one of my O Level exams that morning and the deputy head master had turned up looking for me because the school hadn’t been able to get us on the phone.
So hastily changing into clothes that weren’t wet and muddy, I got into the teacher’s car and went and did the exam. From memory it might have been maths.


OK so she might not have been at her best with rope work but still


As a reviewer commented “Once in a while a book really gets to you. Jim Webster’s book Sometimes I just Sits and Thinks has done just that to me. Jim is a farmer in the English county of Cumbria. His sense of humour shines throughout each episode. If you come from farming stock as I do, this is the book for you. In my mind’s eye I was out there with Jim and his faithful Border Collies Jess and Sal. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book…”

Spring and turning heifers out


It’s amazing the difference a few nice days can make. Because we’ve no sheep any more we aren’t lambing and at the same time we have grass. So a few dry cows were turned out. They frolicked briefly and then proceeded to sit on the grass basking in the warmth.

Heifers are a different matter. Rather than risk an over-enthusiastic simulation of the Pamplona Bull Run, we put them in a trailer and took them to the field that way. To be fair, after something of a token frolic they too have taken to spending much of their time just soaking up the sun. I do wonder if, like us, they’ve just been utterly hacked off by this winter. Endless rain and driving wind does start to undermine the morale.

The next job was to fix a bit of a gap before the basking dry cows bestirred themselves and discovered it. Next door has wintered some bullocks in the field next to us. It’s perfect for that, large parts of it are effectively sand (burns off pretty much every summer) so it stays dry underfoot and doesn’t get trodden up. Also there is shelter for cattle who want it.

The gap was about thirty yards from the blackthorn in the photo. On our side for some reason there was a section with sheep netting but no breast wire above it. I think a sheep had got its head caught in the netting and in pulling and pushing to (successfully) get its head out, it managed to break a fence post which means the whole lot was now sagging.

Next door’s fence had also suffered, a tree had gone down in the winter winds. As it had been acting as an informal straining post, it left a gap on their side. I was surprised that next door’s cattle hadn’t wandered into our field through it until one of them came across to see what I was doing. At this point it discovered the mud in this hollow was still belly deep and floundered off back to join its mates. I suspect we are going to forget how wet things actually have been and I can see people getting vehicles stuck where they’ve never got stuck before. It might be nice now and a lot of ground might have dried, but there’s still a lot of water about.

I suspect we’ve had new springs appear because I’ve got one gateway standing water than never stood water before. It’s at the foot of a steep bank and I think the water has started seeping down through the bank from the field above.

Anyway I got the fence fixed, two posts and a bit of spare wire. I even managed to patch up a breast wire on the other side to cover the gap the tree had left, just in case the mud gets shallower and the bullocks get more adventurous.

Looking about at the larger world, one phenomena I’ve noticed, social media seems to be full of older people ranking about the stupid thirty-somethings who have keep going out and seeing their mates. Up here it’s the thirty-somethings who are trying to talk sense into the older folk.

Another thing I’ve noticed is all sorts of self-righteous people ranting about the list of companies they’re going to boycott after it’s all over because of the way they’ve not looked after their staff. I wonder when people will start ranting about education authorities? I’ve got family and friends who work as supply teachers or supply teaching assistants. Once the schools shut, those working on supply contracts have just got no money. Indeed the 80% doesn’t help them, because they’re only paid for the hours they have in their contact and they’re all effectively on zero hours contracts. Perhaps the self-righteous should get on with naming and shaming these authorities as well.


There again, what to I know. Speak to the expert. Now available in paperback and ebook

As a reviewer commented, “his is a delightful collection of gentle rants and witty reminiscences about life in a quiet corner of South Cumbria. Lots of sheep, cattle and collie dogs, but also wisdom, poetic insight, and humour. It was James Herriot who told us that ‘It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet’ but Jim Webster beautifully demonstrates that it usually happened to the farmer too, but far less money changed hands.

I, for one, am hoping that this short collection of blogs finds a wide and generous audience – not least because I’m sure there’s more where this came from. And at 99p you can’t go wrong!”

Whistling in the dark


The other morning I ended up getting up earlier than usual start. I had to be in Penrith for not long after 9am. So this meant that I was doing various things an hour before I normally do them. So 6am found me feeding a small group of three heifers. They’re still outside so I take some dairy cake to them to supplement the last of the grass. As I floundered through the mud of the gateway, in the dark and driving rain, I suddenly realised I was whistling. So I metaphorically at least stopped to listen. For reasons I do not understand I was whistling, ‘I’m dreaming of a White Christmas.’

It has to be admitted that everything is distinctly un-Christmassy. Everything is sodden. Even Sal looks askance when I venture into a field. She picks her way rather daintily, heading in roughly the same direction, but ostentatiously avoiding the worst of the mud and trying to keep to the bits under barbed wire fences that only she can walk on. Admittedly it’s not as bad as the photo. Still we’re getting there.

Still, I’m inside now, there’s a good fire going, and it’s not long to coffee arrives. So I thought I’d write my blog. Which is handy because I can mention in passing that I’ve been put forward for Blogger Recognition Award. This has rules, but then everything has rules. As far as I’m concerned it’s a way of letting people discover new blogs.




  1. Thank the blogger(s) who nominated you and provide a link to their blog.


Well that’s easy, it was Stevie at https://steviet3.wordpress.com/ who nominated me.


  1. Write a post to show your award.


Yep, doing that one.


  1. Give a brief story of how your blog started.


Well I wrote a book. And once you write a book, you’re doomed to a lifetime of trying to convince people to buy it. So I had to do facebook. I tried doing twitter but because I only access the internet on a desktop computer, twitter doesn’t work because I wasn’t looking at it often enough. Now I just set the automatics to post stuff to twitter and don’t look at it every month. If anybody asks me about it, I merely reply, “I have my people to do twitter.” You have to admit this is one up on just saying, “Life is too short to spend my life chained to my computer.”
But at the same time, back in 2012, I realised I had to have a blog, to tell people how wonderful my book was.
But frankly it’s a very limited subject. At the end of the first blog post I’d got bored of the topic, and I suspect the readers had given up on it before I did. So I just started blogging about what I know, which is why cattle, sheep, Border Collies and quadbikes make regular appearances.




  1. Give two pieces of advice to new bloggers.


Try and stick to one blog post a week. Any less and people will forget you. Any more often and you’ll never get anything else done.


Write about life, what you know, and stuff that interests you. Then at least you’re enjoying it. If you enjoy your blog, there’s at least half a chance that others might as well.


  1. Select up to fifteen bloggers you want to give this award to.


In no particular order, I’d mention

Sue Vincent   https://scvincent.com/

M T Mcguire   https://mtmcguire.co.uk/

Robbie Cheadle   https://robbiesinspiration.wordpress.com/

The writers’ Co-op   https://writercoop.wordpress.com/

Colleen Chesebro   https://colleenchesebro.com/

Chris Graham    https://thestoryreadingapeblog.com/

Ashlynn Waterstone   https://waterstoneway.wordpress.com/

Ken Gierke   https://rivrvlogr.wordpress.com/

Willow Willers    https://willowdot21.wordpress.com/

Ritu Bhathal    https://butismileanyway.com/

Anita and Jaye      https://jenanita01.com/

I’d advise anybody to check these blogs out. I’ve just done a blog tour with them, during which I released a novella, and each blog had one chapter. It was a lot of fun and I hope they enjoyed it as much as I did.


  1. Comment (or pingback) on each blog to let them know that you’ve nominated them and provide a link to the post you’ve created.


Must remember to do this one.


And if you were wondering about the novella we published together, it’s available here


Life for a jobbing poet is difficult. You have to be flexible with regard to your art. One day you’re organising an elegant soiree, the next a pie eating contest. Yet all the while you are striving to raise the tone and to ensure that decency, dignity, and an appreciation of the fine arts prevails.
And sadly it appears that the more honest your attempts, the more noble your endeavours, the more likely it is that you end up making enemies. Tallis helps out the family of an old friend, obliges a patron, and does his best to aid the authorities in the administration of justice. Each time he merely manages to upset the powerful, the petty, and the vindictive.

Stick to what you know best?


In my case this appears to be mud! We’ve had a wet winter, but the ‘Beast from the east’ and the constant, biting easterly winds did one good thing. They dried the ground up. It became possible to travel and sheep could wander about pretty well everywhere without leaving a mess.

Then we had the endless rain of the past few days. It has chucked it down. I’ve seen water running across roads in places I’ve never seen it run before. So a couple of days ago I had let sheep across the beck into another, drier field.

This sort of worked; the ewes ignored the driving rain and poured across the bridge after me. Some of the lambs followed, but the rest sat in what shelter they could find and just glared at me. Indeed they just glared at Sal as well as she tried to mooch among them and just get them moving a bit. Finally we left them on the grounds that their mums would come back to them later. In fact when the rain stopped and the sun came out a bit, they did condescend to join the rest of the flock.

But I used this photo to show what the track is like. We first used it three days ago, and we only go backwards and forwards along it once a day, with quad and trailer. The rest of the field is a lot better, but still it shouldn’t be like this. I’d expect it to be dry at this time of year.

Sal isn’t really enjoying it at the moment, the lambs have got to the stage where they’ll just run and play in bunches. So she wandered about the field well out of everybody’s way so the ewes weren’t feeling threatened. Then suddenly thirty lambs descended upon her and started frolicking around her. Now that as such isn’t the problem. They’re not going to attack her, she isn’t going to attack them, and if they get to be a nuisance she’ll go off or wait for them to just run off at random to play with something else.

The problem is when mum notices what’s going on and thunders across to deal with this wicked wolf descendent who is leading her poor darlings astray. There are times a dutiful dog cannot do right for doing wrong! So Sal knows that you do not stand between mother and offspring. She’s not stupid, it’s the first rule. So what exactly do you do when the lamb decides to play hide and seek with mum and uses you as something to hide behind? At this point Sal merely makes her excuses and leaves at speed to avoid trouble.

Yet, into the grim darkness of the weather there has been a couple of rays of sunshine.
Firstly I got a review for ‘Tallis Steelyard and the sedan chair caper.’


Diana Y

5.0 out of 5 stars A Treat for Lovers of Fantasy and Human Foibles

“Jim Webster’s sly wit and broad understanding of human nature makes his work deliciously appealing. The adventures of Tallis Steelyard, and the characters who inhabit his world, are particularly delightful. Tallis and his creator both have a dry, wry and wonderfully playful perspective, and while the tales may seem like a bit-of-fluff entertainment initially, the aftertaste is that of rich wisdom shared with a wink.”


Click here to see this wonderful book. After reading that review even I was tempted to buy a copy and I’ve already got one!





Then I got a review of a book I’ve just published. ‘Tallis Steelyard. The Festival, and other stories.’



5.0 out of 5 stars  Lovely stuff

“Another selection of tales from Port Naain, as told by jobbing poet Tallis Steelyard. Read about the underpinnings of dancing matrons, the secret beneath the undergarments of a gentlewoman of the town, the resurrection of a dead mercenary, and much more. This is a gentle comedy of manners in a world so different from our own. The author writes affectionately of his world and his characters, and I share that affection. Lovely stuff.”


Again you can find this book here.





This sort of thing can cheer a chap up no end!

Sometimes it rains a bit


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.



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.



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




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


Obviously on a day like this you need to chill out with a good book


When mages and their suppliers fall out, people tend to die. This becomes a problem when somebody dies before they manage to pass on the important artefact they had stolen. Now a lot of dangerous, violent or merely amoral people are searching, and Benor has got caught up in it all. There are times when you discover that being forced to rely upon a poet for back-up isn’t as reassuring as you might hope.

As a reviewer commented, “What starts off looking like a theft at sea, followed by a several findings in the mud when the tide is out, soon morphs into an intriguing tale where Benor, Tallis, Shena, Mutt, and a plethora of other folks, get involved in dealing with dark deeds in Port Naain.”