Tag Archives: Rain

Welding muck in the rain.

According to somebody who knows, farmers and Royal Marines have at least one thing in common, an utter disregard for doing things by the book. (A blithe disregard of health and safety may be one of the other things they have in common.)  So over the years, my occasional ventures into agricultural engineering are such as to give proper engineers palpitations. Were any to stop to watch what I’m doing, they’d probably have to go and have a lie down.

Over the years I’ve had to do a lot of percussive maintenance with tractor mounted slurry scrapers. The problem is that these take a lot of hammer. They’re used at least twice a day whilst cows are housed, they’re marinated in muck (which does nobody any good) and they’re often used in the dark or semi-dark. So yes they get well used.

Now scrapers don’t have all that many wearing parts. There’s the rubber that makes contact with the concrete that does wear out. There are also the pins the scraper pivots on. Because for those who’ve never used one, a scraper is meant to be able to pull muck as well as to push it. Indeed when you stop and think about it, you want to be able to pull muck out of the building (so the scraper can get close to the back wall, the last thing you want is to have to shovel a tractor length of muck by hand.) and similarly you want to be able push the muck into the slurry pit. After all, pulling it into the slurry pit means that the tractor has to go first. This is generally something you try to avoid.

Actually in the picture at the top of the page, the pit cannot be all that deep, you can still see the tractor.

But back to the pins the scraper pivots on. In the picture, the red arrow points to one of them. The pin connects A to B. Obviously they’re pretty hard steel. The last thing you want is them bending and buckling so the scraper no longer pivots.

But when you have a piece of steel (like B) swinging on a hard steel pin, if B isn’t as hard as the pin then B is going to wear. So B should be pretty hard steel as well, but in fact you’re running to expense. At what point do we call a halt.

I’d love to discuss the design of these scrapers with somebody who actually understands it all, but as far as I can see, you want everything to fail simultaneously. After all, they aren’t going to last forever. In theory the rubbers can be replaced but by the time the rubber has worn out, the bolts holding it on are so rotted they have to be cut off and the ‘wings’ have taken so many knocks they are only half connected to the rest of the scraper. So using high quality expensive steel just makes the tackle even more expensive and won’t increase life all that much.
In theory if you wash the scraper off after each use it would extend its life. But frankly if you’ve got time to do that, you’re either employing too many staff or you’re not milking enough cows.

Anyway back to the scraper. B wears. In fact what happens is that, in slow motion, the pin cuts its way through the metal of B until the hole in B is actually a slot.

Now doing the job properly and thinking about it, when buying another second hand scraper, I’d weld a couple of hard steel washers to B, one each side of the hole. This I would do when things were dry and clean, in the workshop where I could lift and twist things so that I could get to weld it properly. That way it would take the pin so much longer to cut its way through. Yes, because life is so slow and relaxed round here I have always had time to do sensible stuff like that. Oh look, a unicorn.

Instead, this is agriculture and everything is done in a rush. One morning you discover that the pins have escaped, B has a slot rather than a hole, so you hammer the steel back into place (because once the pin has broken through, it stops wearing as much and starts bending the softer metal out of its way) and then weld a bit of steel across the top of the slot to hold the bits into place.

But remember that you’re welding steel that has been marinated in muck for some years. So things spark and splutter a bit. Also there’s the frantic looking round for a piece of steel to weld across. Obviously in the fabulously appointed workshop there’ll be all sorts of handy bits. I’ve patched scrapers up with all sorts of odds and sods over the years. On one occasion I ended up with what I suspect was an old clog iron from the sole of somebody’s clog. For reasons I never understood it had been tacked to a beam, perhaps they’d hung something from it? If they did it was at least a century ago and I’d got fed up of trying to avoid knocking my head on it and had taken it down.

But it was just the right size and thickness to weld as a band over the top of the metal I’d hammered back into place. So I cut it into lengths and held it in place with mole grips and welded it up. It is was barely drizzling, it wasn’t raining properly.

I think the technical term is ‘clagged it on.’

So a piece of blacksmith iron that came out of the forge perhaps a hundred and fifty years ago was used to cobble together something a little more modern. Not only that but whatever the analysis and temper it had had before I got to play with it, by the time the welder had heated it up, and the molten weld had soaked up the muck around it, I shudder to think what its properties changed to.

But any job that gets you ‘back on the road’ for the cost of two welding rods is a good job.

Always remember, if some other part of the scraper gives up the ghost before bit you repaired breaks again, it was a successful repair. If you want pretty, I suggest you follow the YouTube channel of one of the more fashionable ‘influencers.’

♥♥♥♥

There again what do I know, ask one of the experts featured below!

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 in the same league as Herrick, absorbing you into a different world, with its trials and tribulations making a background for the occasional moment of hilarity or joy. Hats off to Jim and his ilk, putting food on our tables despite our unwillingness to pay a decent price for it. I am frequently outraged that I live in a society which is prepared to pay more for bottled water than milk, and drowns the country in plastic in the process.

Jim manages to get this across without ranting and then uses his wry sense of humour to leave you howling with laughter at a series of events that a mere townie could never have imagined. Thanks for letting me into your world Jim – I am now committed to changing my behaviour and paying the extra for local, seasonal produce.”

A rotten wet day.

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Well is it wet enough for you? It’s been interesting so far. I wandered out this morning to feed dry cows and heifers. Some of them are handy around the yard, some less so. As I fastened my current battered hi-viz jacket against the rain I looked across to where Sal lives. She peered out from under her cattle trailer (At times she prefers to sleep under it rather than in it) looking at me as if I was some sort of idiot. Anyway she crawled out and stood shaking herself ready to go to work.

This going to work in her case means scouring the yard for tasty and inadvertently discarded titbits whilst I feed round. Then we head down to the Mosses to see the dry cows and heifers. At this point the rain, which has merely been moderate, decides to start lashing it down.

Anyway we get down there. The heifers who are expecting to be fed come out from where they were sheltering and crowd around me. So they get fed. Then I go and find the dry cows. In the distance I can see something white under trees in the hedge. As I get closer I can see that the dry cows have pushed into the hedge to take advantage of the shelter. Your average black and white dairy cow is actually pretty well camouflaged when they’re among trees, the black disruptive pattern works really well. I wandered up to them and they looked impassively in my direction. After all, from their point of view, I was the idiot wandering about in the rain, each to his own. When I counted them they seemed to be all there so I didn’t disturb them. I’ll see them later today anyway.

By the time I got back home I was a trifle damp. So I put my shirt and trousers against the Rayburn to dry a bit and went to get the daily paper. Also as I’m the one who drives into the edge of town anyway, I get the job of shopping at our local tesco. Other stores exist but none without driving half way through town and adding half an hour to the job. My better half has never liked food shopping and has recentlt been happy to gift me with the task. Anyway I’m back home by 8:30am so it’s not something that breaks into a day.

Of course it’s the first time I’ve had to do the shopping (as opposed to just collecting the paper) since we had to wear masks. Rather than faff about with masks and screw the environment even more, I just use a tube scarf. Pull it up over my nose as I enter the shop, pull it down to breathe when I leave. Looking round tesco (at that time in the morning there are more staff working than customers) all the customers had their faces covered. One chap had a bandana rather than the usual mask.

Talking to the ladies on the tills as I was leaving, they commented that their customers had all been very good with them over it all. I pointed out that to me, it was more a question of courtesy. I’ve had the virus early before it was fashionable and I’ve spent the last four months playing other people’s games out of courtesy. (Before anybody says ‘yes but you can get it again,’ my answer is yes, undoubtedly. Given the number of people they’re testing, if it is possible to get it twice, then sooner or later they will find somebody who has done so. Therefore I’m not taking too much notice of panicky newspaper articles bewailing the lack of immunity and I am just watching the test results.).

Mind you this courtesy business can be hard work at times. There are times I am tempted to revert to cantankerous old beggar. It’s always easier to run a system on the default settings.

Anyway after all this excitement I get home and it’s time to fill the feed bins. So I change back into the clothes I’ve had by the Rayburn. They’re not actually dry but the wetness is comfortingly warm. By the time I’ve finished swilling out and filled bins, I’m back to wet again. So when I go in for my coffee everything bar socks and underpants goes straight into the washing machine and I put on dry stuff out of the tumble drier that was washed last night.
Anyway a nicely timed zoom meeting meant I didn’t have to go back out into the rain. But this morning I got two interesting emails.

The first claimed to be from BT. We get more spoof emails claiming to be from BT than you can shake a stick at, but this one was an obvious fail. It started,” Guten Tag, Jim Webster in der Anlage erhalten Sie unsere Antwort.”

(Google translate assures me that this means “Hello Jim Webster You will find our answer in the attachment.” Oh and as an aside, have you ever listened to the verbal translation? I was left wondering whether the young lady doing it had had a glass or two more of white wine with her lunch that the occasion really warranted.)

Oh and I got an email from the RPA (Rural Payments Agency.
The email said that there was a message for us on our account. That was it. Could have been about anything.

So first to find the sign-in page. I suppose I could have it saved as one of my favourites but I might visit it once a year. So when I found the appropriate webpage I then had to open my passwords notebook and find out what the password was. I’ve got fourteen different passwords written down and that doesn’t include the passwords for trivial sites where I have a simple password for. I hope nobody expects me to remember these damned things. Some of them, like the government issued ones, have a twelve digit ID number to put in, then a 12 letter and number combination. I’m not even going to try to remember them.
But anyway I finally get onto the right page, put in the appropriate ID and passwords, paint the metal of the pentagram with blood, and press the button. The message appears!
“We have recently updated the Rural Payments service and can now send messages to groups of customers, for example, to remind them to submit an application.

Make sure you regularly check your messages for important updates and information.”

Thank you for wasting ten minutes of my life faffing about to read a message you could just have put in the original flaming email!

Anyway I’ve got enough paperwork to do to keep me out of the rain this afternoon, but at some point I’ll be feeding heifers again. Given that it isn’t actually raining at the moment I might just sneak out now, feed those furthest away and see if the dry cows have come out from under the trees. Either way I can check to see that everybody down on the Mosses is all right before the heavens open again. Look on the bright side. I might not have to sling another lot of sodden clothes into the washing machine before dressing out of the tumble drier for a second time today.

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It strikes me you might want to get away from it all for a while.

Hired to do a comparatively simple piece of mapping work Benor should perhaps have been suspicious when the pay seemed generous.
Will he ever get to the bottom of what is going on?
How rough is the rough justice of rural Partann?
How to clean out a privy with a crossbow. Welcome to the pastoral idyll.

 

As a reviewer commented, “Benor the cartographer is offered a job away from home with unusually generous pay. It all has to be done on the quiet, too. Something’s up. Benor has a murder to solve. I thought he had, but there’s more to come. This story is a murder mystery and a comedy of manners, set in a world of fantasy. If you like a genre mashup, this is brilliant. The characters and their relationships and banter would make it worth reading even if it didn’t have a plot – but it does. Another winner for me.”

Not everybody likes the wet

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When I let Sal out this morning, she showed no real signs of enthusiasm. She followed me, picking her way fastidiously around the water. She abandoned this when she discovered that, in reality, the water, be it slush or rainwater, was everywhere.
When I woke up this morning, there was snow cover of a sort, but the rain had already started. Apparently for a while Barrow was cut off. This isn’t because our highway authority is incompetent, it’s just that there’s effectively just one road and if an artic skids on the wrong roundabout, we’re cut off. Yes there is another way out, but that goes up through the lakes and in summer it’s effectively blocked by tourists, and in bad weather it’s not what I’d call a pleasant drive.

But Sal and I went to feed round a few heifers, who to be fair were glad to see us. Certainly they seemed happier that Sal was. Although even she perked up when she discovered that there was still snow, of a sort, on the lawn. She genuinely frolicked at that point and rolled in it enthusiastically.

As you can see, the day has made an effort. First it genuinely attempted to snow, but as you can see, it’s hardly overwhelming.

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Then it’s made a half-hearted attempt to get light as well. To be honest I think today is going to be one of those days where we work in the gloom.

The other problem with snow and slush is that it has to be moved. So scraping out the yards takes twice as long because you aren’t merely shifting the muck, you’re shifting the slush as well.
Remember that we’re an area that is geared up to handle water. There are places in the UK which aren’t used to it. About thirty years ago I remember travelling with a family friend in the south and it threw a really heavy shower. So heavy they were wondering about pulling off the road, they’d never really seen anything like it. This rather surprised me as we’ll get showers like that most months, especially in winter.

But what really staggered me was suddenly everything was flooded. Here in Cumbria, our highway engineers know that you have to have drains along the sides of roads. Not only that, but whilst our local authorities do get caught out at times, they do know the importance of keeping the drains clean.

And me? I’ve got one waterproof drying, and am wearing my previous pair of working trousers. This is because my current working trousers are sodden and are hopefully drying in from of the Rayburn.

Working trousers have to be really bad before they get thrown out, they’ll always come in for an hour or two during wet weather. If, when I go back out, this pair get soaked and the ‘good’ ones still aren’t dry, there’s another pair that I can put on. Admittedly they’re not the sort of garment you could wear in company but still they’ll keep the wind off when worn with a long waterproof.

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Sal does keep having difficult days

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

 

 

 

A small tornado a long way from London, nobody noticed.

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Last month, during evening milking, the electric went off. This is a damned nuisance, especially given that at this time of year, it’s pretty much pitch dark. Even darker because it was a wet and windy evening. However before we managed to phone the electricity people to query gently when they expected service to return, it came back on again. So we promptly got on with life and put it down as ‘just one of those things.’ After all, we’re rural, electricity can come and go at times. It’s better than it used to be. You just make sure you know where the torches are. In the longer term we have an oil-fired Rayburn cooker that doesn’t depend on an electrical pump to work. In winter, we have an open fire, which uses a lot of logs and a little bit of coal. After all, the longest power cut I’ve experienced was six and a half days, which is an awful long time to be without warm food and heat.

But next day news began to filter in to us as to what had actually happened. A small tornado (there may well be a proper meteorological term for a bijou tornado-ette) had hit the island of Walney, cut across the south of the island and had headed for us. The first damage I could find was where it had run the length of one dike, tipping over hawthorn trees as it went. It then passed across a field and somehow missed one neighbour’s house. Instead it seems to have passed over another of our hedges, doing no damage. It then crossed a pretty large open area of the mosses where it may have gained speed and power, because it swung left and hit the front of another neighbour’s house. It put in two house windows and made a mess of a workshop before heading up through Furness. Finally it burnt itself out in the cemetery in Ulverston where it took down a lot of trees.

Looking at our toppled trees, my cunning plan is just to pull them back into the line of the hedge. This I’ll do gently so that I don’t put any more strain on the roots. Then I’ll hammer a fence post of two between the branches so it helps pin them in place. With any luck they’ll all survive.

 

And now we have Storm Ciara, which looks to be a bit rougher than the usual winter storm, but frankly not that much rougher round here. I think that the sheer weight of rain that came with it made it worse. That and the fact that it came in from the south and west just after the full moon so we had a higher tide than usual. This photo somebody took is the main road not far from our lane end.

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At high tide it came over the wall and kept going.

 

A friend was travelling down one of the lanes and took a photo through the rain towards the sea. Even at two or more miles away you can see the waves breaking on the sea wall. Also note that there isn’t supposed to be a lake between the camera and the sea. Somewhere on the horizon there is supposed to be England. I suppose it’s still there.

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But we’re lucky. When they decided to build a farm here, they picked a spot which was sheltered from the west (which is our main source of gales) and high enough up not to flood. There again, they were ignorant peasants, not wise and properly trained people like the members of planning committees. Still, eight hundred or so years ago we were too wise to have planning committees.

♥♥♥♥

Still whatever the weather you can still snuggle up with a good book! Available in paperback or ebook

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

Running in high heels

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Not something I’ve ever tried to be honest. I’m tall enough as it is and my legs, decently clad in working trousers, are too utilitarian to warrant being exhibited to a dumbfounded world.

And at the moment it’s not the weather for high heels. As I sit on the quad in the rain, watching the sheep fish about for the nuts I’ve put down for them, I can hear Sal splashing towards me. When a small Border Collie bitch splashes when walking across what is supposed to be dry ground, you know it’s wet enough.

This morning the rain was coming across in great curtains. I had to slow down when driving into it because it was painful on my face if I went at any speed. Not only that but I think even Sal is losing it. She came up to jump a netting fence, totally mistimed everything jumping into the rain (or she may have slipped as she jumped) and ended up piling into the fence rather than sailing over it. She glanced at me in an embarrassed fashion to check that I hadn’t seen it and then quietly jumped over it properly.

But I was on about high heels wasn’t I. It’ll be about forty years ago now. It would be winter and after midnight when we were awakened by a hammering on the front door. We never use the front door to be honest, but sometimes people knock on it. Just rarely at midnight.

So my parents (whose room was above it) shouted out of the window to ask what was the problem, and I got dressed and went down to open the door. There was a barefoot young lady standing there. When my mother arrived we got her full story. Just down the lane from us was a lay-by where courting couples used to park up. She had been at a dance in Ulverston and had accepted a lift back to Barrow from somebody who had been ‘more affectionate than she had intended.’

So when he stopped at the lay-by she’d seen the lights of our cubicle house. In winter when cows are housed we leave some lights on. It’s easier for cows to get up for a drink or something to eat; and if they can see, they’re less easily startled by anything. So they’re happier.
This lass had seen the lights, opened the passenger door and had run for it. In the course of which she’d abandoned her high heels. By the time she’d worked out the lights came from outbuildings, she could see where the front door was so had hammered on that.

She was seriously nervous, so I went out to both make sure there was nobody still parked in the lay-by and to find her shoes. Whoever she’d had the lift with was gone, and I even found both her shoes. When I wandered back in she was on the phone for a taxi.

Strangely enough she’d decided that she’d get a taxi home rather than phoning for her Dad to collect her. I think she felt the taxi driver would need fewer embarrassing explanations.

♥♥♥♥

You might want to read about a lady who didn’t have this sort of problem?
Her memoirs are now in paperback and ebook

 

As a reviewer commented, “Maljie is indeed a Lady Par Excellence. From mountain climber to pirate, currency inventor to financial genius, balloonist to Temple Warden, and more – much, much, more…

The female reader will want her as a best friend, the male reader would be wise to exercise extreme caution if he knows another lady like her.”

 Avoiding entanglements

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Obviously it’s tough being a best selling author. After all there are only so many free lunches a chap can attend. Then with the endless free drinks, the groupies, and of course the expense account….

Sorry I was looking at the wrong list, that’s what you get for being an MP. Easy mistake to make obviously.

But anyway, I have occasionally had fame tap me on the shoulder. On one occasion I was asked whether I’d like to do my own radio show on music radio. I confess I was tempted, but only briefly. I’m not somebody who can babble inanely for long periods, (Although if tempted by suitably appropriate financial recompense I could doubtless improvise.) But really, what deterred me from ever setting my foot on that road was the fact that, frankly, I just didn’t like the music. I did listen to some of the output and I tried really hard to like it, but to be fair it was music designed by a cruel fate to be babbled over.

It’s surprising how subjective all this stuff is. After all there was one group I used to rather sneer at as the teeny bopper boy band my little sister liked. Now I have to confess I do think Dire Straits have produced some good stuff. Doubtless there’s stuff being played now which in thirty years time might be remembered. But still, that being said, playing endless Bon Jovi to elderly people in nursing homes does strike me as coming awfully close to being a cruel and unnatural punishment.

There again, given my ability to get myself caught up in declining industries, perhaps the music industry is glad I’ve given them a miss. After all, they’d hardly be keen on following down the same road as Agriculture and Freelance Journalism when it comes to paying folk a living.

Still, it has to be said that there’s nothing like a good dose of reality to help ground a chap and stop him getting ideas above his station. The last few days have been fine and the ground was almost starting to dry out a bit. Except that last night it rained. No, it didn’t just rain, it sodding well chucked it down. When I went out to feed sheep this morning the rain had slowed to a drizzle, but water was still streaming down both sides of the lanes. As for the fields, it had started getting silly again.

But Sal and I pressed boldly on, undeterred by the fact that when the quad stopped, I could here the splashing of Sal’s feet. Still at least the ewes were glad to see us. When you’re feeding ewes the best plan is to get far enough ahead of them on the quad so that you can stop, get the feed and start putting out in little heaps on the ground before the ewes catch up with you. If you manage this then you’ll probably not be trampled underfoot.
If you don’t think this can happen, there’s a video here that might surprise you.

https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/sheep-attack-watch-moment-175-7837517

 

But anyway, as we check sheep, Sal always combs the hedges looking for those who’ve somehow got themselves entangled. With Sal bearing down on them it’s amazing how they can suddenly break free. On the other hand, we do get those who’re so entangled they cannot manage it. I included a photo of one. Left to her own devices she’ll starve.
You know the bible stories about the shepherd who lost one sheep and left the ninety-nine to find it. In all probability, this is what happened to it.

When you do find a sheep this tangled up, I’ve found the best way to untangle it is to get hold of both back legs and just pull the sheep backwards, away from the hedge. When you think about it the sheep has been hurling itself forwards for some time and that hasn’t worked.

If you pull the sheep backwards it’s as if the briars have less grip. Also you can find that the briar roots have a weaker hold on the ground than the thorns have on the sheep’s fleece.

Then when you’ve pulled the sheep free, still holding the back legs, walk it round so that it is no longer facing the hedge. Then let it go. If you let it go still facing the hedge there’s every chance that the daft beggar will accelerate straight back into the briars.

There again, a mate of mine had similar problems with women. Get him untangled from one and he’d just hurl himself straight into the next.

 

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Now for anybody who’s interested, there is a collection of tales, some of them featuring Sal, for your delectation and delight. Available for a mere 99p

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!”

Sometimes it rains a bit

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

♥♥♥♥

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.”

The Genuine Cumbrian Hyperspace Experience

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The last two days have been remarkably wet even for Cumbria. Strangely enough I missed it as I headed south as far as Kenilworth. So on the Wednesday when I drove south it was throwing it down, until I crossed the county boundary into fine weather.

Driving home on Thursday it was fine, a few spots of rain as I drove through Lancashire, but visibility was good. Then as I passed Burton services I hit rain. It was as abrupt as driving into a car wash, one minute nothing and I was quietly overtaking two lorries. Next minute my windscreen wipers were moving at triple speed in a frantic attempt to let me see out.

But to be fair, this isn’t all that unusual. Indeed off the motorway you can enjoy the ‘Genuine Cumbrian Hyperspace Experience.’ The last time I had this was when they closed the A590. This meant that rather than leaving Penrith and heading down the M6 and A590 home I had to head west along the A66 and then down through St John’s in the Vale to Ambleside, and from there take the Coniston road to hit the A590 at Greenodd to miss the closed section.

And it rained. It was as dark as a January night can be, and it absolutely chucked it down. I had a full hour with the windscreen wipers going at full speed. On the other hand, whilst they might have been exulting in the wild acceleration, I didn’t manage to achieve 40mph.

For those of you who’ve never driven along Cumbrian A roads in these conditions I’ll try and describe them.  Firstly you only see what your headlights illuminate. Your field of vision consists of the walls on both sides (slate grey and rotten wet, gleaming in the headlights.) Then there is the road. This is a different shade of grey and where there is no standing water, it’s because of the slope and you’re driving through running water. Finally there is the vegetation above you, which is also sodden, reflects the light back, looks vaguely green but fades to black where the headlights don’t reach. And this continues for miles. Occasionally another vehicle looms out of the darkness. This can be a cause for panic because both of you have been driving down the white line, as it’s the highest part of the road and the bit with least standing water.

Then suddenly, you drop out of hyperspace. You find yourself in a village. Frantically you look for something you recognise because you’ve just been driving with no landmarks or recognisable features. If you’re lucky you spot the sign saying that ‘Blawith welcomes careful drivers’ or ‘Welcome to Subberthwaite (yes you are lost)’.

Then after a few brief moments of comparative civilisation with houses, lights in windows and perhaps even a street light or two, you leave the village, drop back into the hyperspace tunnel and you’re back in a featureless world of wet greys and greens.

You just better hope you dropped into the right hyperspace tunnel otherwise it’s ‘second to the right, and straight on till morning’ and God alone knows where you’ll end up.

♥♥♥♥

For those of you who quite like journeys where you don’t know where you’ll end up there’s always

 

As a reviewer commented, “50 year old Benor is back in his home city of Toelar, enjoying a quiet life of roof running, paramouring, etc, when one day his routine gets disturbed, making a fast getaway necessary.
However, his escape route is blocked by an Urlan Knight.
Fortunately, the said Knight saves Benor’s life, without even unsheathing his sword, by just being there.
Unfortunately, the said Knight has been looking for Benor and has a little proposition to make.
And so it begins…”

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.”