Tag Archives: sal

Beware the wrath of an angry dog.

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It has to be admitted that Sal is not the most aggressive of dogs. Unusual for Border Collies, she rather likes people. In fact she has no concept of social distancing and no understanding of the fact that people might not appreciate muddy footprints on their trousers/shirt/jacket.

It’s the same with livestock. She is remarkably longsuffering. Cattle can sniff her, I’ve even seen calves licking her. Admittedly she does tend to move away if they start chewing her ears, but that is understandable. And all she does is move away. She metaphorically shrugs and gets out of range.

Even with sheep, if nothing particularly is happening and a lamb wants to play with her, Sal will play. I’ve seen her quietly sidestep wild charges and occasionally dance in front of one to tempt it into running at her.

Even with rats, I’ve only ever seen her attack two. I don’t know what one of them did but she killed it. The other was sitting on the grass six feet away from her quietly washing itself. She obviously felt that this was an insult that couldn’t be borne and pounced. The rat shot into a hedge and disappeared.

Obviously she dislikes foxes. She chases them enthusiastically but has never got so close that she had to worry about what you do next.

Then we have Billy. He’s a feral cat who likes people. So much so it seems to be trying to copy our greeting. When he approaches I’ve noticed that we all say, ‘Hello Billy.’ The noise he makes when he comes up to us does sound a bit like ‘Hello’ as produced by a cat. Not only that but he’s fascinated by Sal. I suspect it may have something to do with the fact that she’s the nearest to him in size. They do seem to have a working relationship. They mind their own business, don’t get in each other’s way and whilst when passing they might sniff the other’s nose, that’s about it.

Then last night I noticed a rat drinking out of Sal’s water bucket. Sal had obviously not seen this. So I did the obvious thing. I got Billy. I took him across and placed him where I’d seen the rat. As a hunting technique for getting rid of them goes, this one is pretty successful. He probably will not get the rat then and there but obviously he marks the spot and builds it into his daily round.

On this occasion he could obviously smell the rat, his tail started twitching and he started to hunt. Sal came across to me to get her ears tickled. Billy continued to hunt. This took him into Sal’s cattle trailer and it was then he saw Sal’s bowl. This still had some of her supper in it.

Billy hunted across to it, sniffed it and at this point I said, “Billy.”

He looked at me, drifted away from the bowl and then drifted back to get another mouthful.

It was at this point Sal flew at him. There was nothing playful happening here, Sal went from Border Collie to Angry Wolf and hurled herself in defence of her supper dish. Billy had the problem he was trapped, he couldn’t get out for the dog coming in. In the circumstances he did the sensible thing and apologised. His stance was defensive but without the spitting and suchlike you can see from a cat that is ready to attack.

Sal stopped, came back to me, and Billy, somewhat sheepishly, quietly made his way out of her cattle trailer and made his way across the yard to stare at her from a safe distance. Sal lay down across the door into her trailer with her head on her paws, and gave the impression of a dog who was dozing quietly without a care in the world.

Me, I just left them to it.

♥♥♥♥

If you want to meet Sal at her more emollient

 

Another collection of anecdotes drawn from a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England. As usual Border Collies, Cattle and Sheep get fair coverage, but it’s mixed with family history and the joys of living along a single track road.

As a reviewer commented, “Another excellent compendium of observations from the back of Mr. Webster’s quad bike in which we learn a lot more about sheep, border collies and people. On the whole, I think the collies come out of it best. If you fancy being educated on the ways of the world, with a gentle humour and a nice line in well observed philosophy, you could do a lot worse than this.”

Young ladies of uncertain temperament.

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When you work your way down the list of jobs you have to do on a busy dairy farm, you’ll notice that one that somehow has to get fitted in is ‘looking dairy heifers.’ As soon as there is grass and the heifers are old enough, I always tried to get them outside onto it. I could still give them some supplementary feed but I always felt they did so much better outside, and also were far less work. Checking to see how they are is a job that I have always enjoyed, if only because it gave you an excuse to go for a walk with the dog in the countryside.

Also, I always felt that it was an important job. The dairy heifers are going to grow up to be the ladies who make up your milking herd. So it’s important that they know you and are comfortable with you wandering about. In their eyes, you ought to be ‘the nice guy.’ So appearing every morning with some supplementary feed is probably a good start down this road.

Given that dairy heifers are almost inevitably bucket reared as calves, they start off thinking that people are potentially a ‘good thing.’ You bring them their meals, how can they not approve of you?

Obviously, from their point of view, you blot your copybook by being the one who gives them any vaccinations, worms them and suchlike. But ideally we can keep it constructive by being the one who also appears with feed.

The idea is that by the time they join the dairy herd, they regard you in a positive manner and are pretty relaxed about it all when they go through the milking parlour for the first time. So I never felt time spent with them was wasted. Yes there were times I was really needed elsewhere but still.

As they grow older heifers will go through stages. When very young they can sometimes just run for the sheer joy of running. We once turned some young heifers out onto grass for the first time and one of them just ran across the field, turned round and hurtled back at speed. At some point it her mad career she realised she has heading for a very tall hedge. This did not deter her. In fact she accelerated and then leapt.

Between ourselves I feel she was more than a little optimistic. The hedge at this point was a core of sycamore but heavily infested with brambles. So I want you to visualise her hurtling herself at a nine foot high mat of brambles. Now she’s wearing a good leather jacket, brambles aren’t too much of a problem per se. It’s just the height. Having watched them moving I have no doubt a deer could have taken it. But for a small heifer who doesn’t stand waist height I feel it was a step to far. Still she tried. She hit the hedge about six feet up.

Biology had done its part, physics now took over. We are in the world of conservation of momentum. Her momentum was transferred, as you would expect, to the hedge. Now the bottom of the hedge is pretty solidly grounded. It isn’t going to move. But the top stands proud and free and under her impact the hedge (or vertical mat of brambles) swayed. It went over so far that at one point I thought it was going to tip her off into the next field before it swayed back. It teetered, but didn’t quite. Then it swayed back and dumped the heifer somewhat unceremoniously on the ground, back in the field she started from. She stood up, shook herself a bit, looked round to see if anybody was laughing at her, and wandered off at a more sedate speed to see if this green stuff she was surrounded by was worth a nibble.

As they grow older they become a little more sedate. But just as you’ll find small children go through a stage where they love being ‘scared’ and run about screaming excitedly, dairy heifers can also pass through this stage.

When I feed one batch, they’ll often cluster around Sal rather than following me with the bucket. To a certain extent, this is Sal’s fault. She is in the habit of wandering through the calf pens to see if there’s anything worth eating. So many a young calf’s first exposure to creatures other than Mum, is Sal wandering through to see if there’s any afterbirth lying about. As they get older she quite likes the flavour of the feed they get and she’ll often help herself to stuff they’ve dropped. So they’re used to seeing her and she’s used to being sniffed by them.

So I’ll walk into the field, the heifers will ignore me and cluster round Sal, and I’ll stand there with their feed wondering at what point they’ll notice me. So I whistle Sal who trots out from in the middle of the group. And at this point the heifers will all be excitedly scared, run away in different directions, sometimes bucking and kicking until they remember that I’ve got the bucket. Then, worried that one of the others will get there first and snaffle the lot, they all run towards me, sometimes close to treading Sal underfoot in their haste to be first.

There again, every so often Sal will intervene. This morning I was putting the feed out for them and one ignored it and walked across to sniff Sal. Sal turned and cut across it and made as if to snap her teeth at it. The heifer then jumped four feet sideways in mock alarm but before it could do anything even more exciting realised its nose was six inches from the feed I’d just put down. It immediately set lesser matters from mind and started eating.

I left them to it, but as I left I held the empty bucket in front of me. That was to ensure that they couldn’t see it. Because with heifers, if they cannot see it, it isn’t there. If you walk away holding the bucket so that they can see it, every so often one has the bright idea that there could be more feed left in the bucket. So that one will chase after you to get the extra feed it assumes you’re hiding. If you’re unlucky at this point the others, up until then happily eating, will set off after their colleague, assuming it knows something they don’t. So it’s easier just to make sure they cannot see the bucket.

I don’t know about you but I’ve met people like that as well.

♥♥♥♥

There again you could discuss it with Sal

Another collection of anecdotes drawn from a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England. As usual Border Collies, Cattle and Sheep get fair coverage, but it’s mixed with family history and the joys of living along a single track road.

 

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

A Protestant virus and dancing cat food tins.

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As somebody commented to me recently, Corvid 19 is a very Protestant virus. It’s perfectly safe to work but under no circumstances are you allowed to enjoy yourself. As another person said, “You know what, it’s been a pretty crap summer so far.”

To be fair, he was thinking in agricultural terms.

First the year started sodding wet. Then it dried out nicely. So nicely we had a drought and grass started burning off. Since then it’s been colder than charity and we’ve struggled to have three fine days in a row. Everything, but everything, has been harder work than it really needed to be.
The industry has coped, but then we’re used to coping with bluidy minded weather, mindless regulation, and politicians working from bizarre scientific advice. So the auction marts are open and various organisations are offering webinars and zoom meetings to teach us about the latest developments. Which is great, worthy, and boring. Because all human contact has stopped. It’s probable that some agricultural shows that don’t happen this year will fade away and not happen next year. Given farmers can be pretty isolated at the best of times, this isn’t an entirely good idea.

But this morning I was watching as Sal, ‘the Dog’ and Billy, ‘the Cat’ were strutting round the yard as if they were in charge and understood what was going on. I was irresistibly reminded of politicians. Now to be fair to both Sal and Billy, they have areas of competence. In these areas they are both far more proficient than I am and I accept that. But between ourselves, both these two animals struggle to grasp the bigger picture.

So it is on the political stage. We have politicians saying they want us to go out shopping and spending money, and now they’re saying that they’re thinking of making masks mandatory in shops. Sorry, did I really read that? I mean, I could go shopping in Tesco without a mask at the height of the pandemic and the number of deaths kept dropping. Why, when there is less virus about than ever and the number of ‘excess deaths’ is so low we’re below our normal baseline do we suddenly have to all start wearing masks?
The problem is the message it sends out. I was pondering going for a walk the other day and I could have dropped into town on my travels to get some stuff. I do need a new pair of trainers. (When you’ve feet as wide as mine, trainers are a lot easier and cheaper solution than shoes.) Then I thought to myself, “I just cannot be bothered.”
The masks, the queuing, the circling round people, it’s not worth the candle. After all, until normality returns, the old pair of trainers will cope. It’s not as if I’m going anywhere is it? I’m not somebody who goes in for retail therapy, although I enjoy a browse in a second hand bookshop (or even the book shelves in the charity shops) but at the moment there’s no joy in the job, so why bother?
But actually we want people to enjoy it again. We want people to spend an hour or two browsing, dropping into Costa for a coffee (or whatever) and generally spreading the money and the joy.

Things are starting to spiral down. I noticed that Pret A Manger have shut thirty outlets and is expected to cut at least 1,000 jobs. But they rely on commuters and lunchtime office workers. So their customers are either working from home or furloughed. Apparently sales are down 74% from this time last year and they’re thought to be losing about £20m a month.

I have no doubt there are going to be a lot of other businesses facing the same problem. Working from home is getting more popular. Even if, when working from home, you stroll down to a local café for a change of company and a coffee, you’re still not going to be using an inner city one. It has struck me that London could just ger a kicking.

In fact, when working from home, Prime Minister Mia Mottley is suggesting that those working from home consider moving to Barbados for a year under its new ‘Barbados Welcome Stamp’ scheme. It makes sense, I cannot imagine Barbados having worse broadband than a lot of rural areas in the UK.

One of the obstacles is now the civil service. We’re seeing a similar pattern of offending to that we saw back in 2001 with FMD. First you had the mad panic and the incoherent fumbling. Officials were travelling to strange places and doing dodgy deals with strangers in pub carparks in China to buy PPE.
Now we’re at the ‘back covering stage.’ We saw this with FMD as well. More and more regulation was brought in, and some of it we still have. Other countries in Europe brought it in briefly and then dropped it when the pandemic was over, but not the UK. So we still have a more bureaucratic system of moving livestock than anywhere else in the world.
Of course the idea was that it would mean we wouldn’t have another outbreak. Except that six years later we did. To quote the HSE report about the Pirbright laboratory site, “”Subject to the ongoing work detailed above, the indications are that there is a strong probability that the FMDV strain involved in the farm outbreak originated from the Institute of Animal Health or the Merial sites.” In the report on the epidemic it stated, “It reported that traces of the virus were found in a pipe at the Pirbright institute running from Merial to the government’s treatment plant. It is thought that tree roots damaged the pipe allowing the virus to the surface.” Pirbright was at one time more widely known as Porton Down. MPs of the select committee that dug into the matter commented that, “Two government departments – Defra and the department for innovation, universities and skills – had to “settle how they are going to share the cost” of its £121m redevelopment.” Ideally before it leaked again.

That’s probably why we need strict regulation of farmers, it protects the country from the incompetence of the bureaucracy.

What worries me about our current pandemic is that the bureaucracy is keen to pile more and more regulations on us. Stop and think about it. If masks are so important, then why not make them permanent, after all it’ll be flu season soon. Looking at the pattern of offending, I have no reason to doubt that there will still be regulations left over from the pandemic, still in place this time next year.

Oh yes and the dancing cat food tins. As I was feeding Sal this evening, my lady wife informed me we had just had a recorded phone call telling us that the HMRC were about to prosecute us for something or the other. So just another spam phone call. But she commented that the voice, well spoken, well-modulated, sounded very much like the one in yesterday’s spam phone call telling us our internet was about to be cut off.

I can just imagine the CV of the actor involved. “Yes, after a season as Lear at the Globe, I was in Waiting for Godot in the Arts Theatre in the West End. I was also the voice over for the well regarded dancing cat food tins advert, and was justly celebrated for my part in the ‘Your internet will be cut off’ and ‘The HMRC are taking legal action against you’, spam phone calls.”

♥♥♥♥

There again, what do I know, meet the lady herself.

Another collection of anecdotes drawn from a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England. As usual Border Collies, Cattle and Sheep get fair coverage, but it’s mixed with family history and the joys of living along a single track road.

 

As a reviewer commented, “Another excellent compendium of observations from the back of Mr. Webster’s quad bike in which we learn a lot more about sheep, border collies and people. On the whole, I think the collies come out of it best. If you fancy being educated on the ways of the world, with a gentle humour and a nice line in well observed philosophy, you could do a lot worse than this.”

So who is still working?

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There has been a lot of talk about going back to work. But personally I think this is standing things on their head. Obviously in agriculture a lot of us work from home and self-isolate compulsively because we’re a miserable lot of beggars. Indeed the only people who cannot manage social distancing instinctively are Sal and Billy.

It’s not just us. Not only has agriculture been working pretty normally, but so have the ‘support industries.’ Whenever we’ve picked up a phone to order feed, parts or whatever, it’s been answered and the stuff has been delivered into our yard just as it normally would.
When it comes to selling, apart from a ‘hiccup’ when all the catering venues shut, things have rumbled along. Some dairies took a hit, especially those who had a lot of the catering market. But whilst things aren’t ‘right’, milk is being picked up and apart from the usual suspects, most milk buyers seem to be trying hard to keep the show on the road.
When I talk about ‘usual suspects’, there was a comment in the farming press that Starbucks had said they would no longer deal with one dairy company after things settle down. Apparently they were shocked at how the company had treated their farmer suppliers. The cynic might ask why they were dealing with them in the first place, but there again, you know what they also say. “I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine respectable people who do not need to repent.”

Beef and lamb are back in price. Beef has been pretty poor for a year or so, and was just picking up when coronavirus came and sent it back down again. (Again, the closing of catering did most of the damage.) With lamb, to be honest, it had been doing well. Leaving the EU and the fall in the value of the pound was really good for sheep farmers. When the virus hit, the price has dropped a bit but it’s still at a level that two or three years ago people would have thought was pretty good. At the moment it’s being held up by Ramadan, so hopefully we can organise another festival to follow.

 

But as I said, agriculture has been working flat out. In a two day period we had in our yard the Postman, the Vet, a six man silage team, a chap who came to empty the slurry pit, a contractor with a fertiliser spreader, the chap who helps control vermin and somebody who was spraying the potatoes.

Now most of them were in their own tractors so were probably socially distanced enough for even the most fanatical, although nobody wears masks. But are we alone in this?

 

And at the ‘downstream’ end, abattoirs, packing plants, warehouses, delivery drivers and check-out staff have all kept working. So I might just say ‘Thanks’ at this point because we’d have been screwed without them.

 

In the UK, in crude terms our workforce is about 32 million.

According to figures I’ve found, on the 11 May there were 7.5million people furloughed

On the 14 May there were 1.1m people on the self-employed income support scheme. Mind you some of them will still be working, just not making enough to live on. (They’re self-employed, they should be used to it.)

Then there are those on Universal Credit. In April there were at least an extra million people claiming universal credit. Let’s call it an extra two million and that might allow for people who cannot work and cannot claim.
Lord alone knows how many people are home working. Some of us always do it. But I’ve seen figures saying ‘40% of the population’ which has to be nonsense, and somebody else said there were 8 million. Who knows but at least they’re working.

 

What brought this on was when I went to collect the newspaper. The chap behind the counter was obviously having a bad day. He commented, “I’m getting sick of them coming in here and complaining that they’re having to go back to work.”

I made a vague sympathetic comment and he said, “I told them, ‘I’d love to have had seven weeks off, soaking up the sun and getting drunk every night (the thing about corner shop owners is that they know who comes in just before closing time because they’ve already drunk the stuff they bought from Tesco that morning).

So when people moan about the dangers of having to start working again, all that is actually happening is that they’re coming out to join the half to two thirds of us who’ve been working all the time.

So I’d also like to thank those who’ve kept our electricity working, those who I saw out fixing the broadband. Those who deal with gas leaks and unblock sewers, those who make our society work. Remember, if it wasn’t for these and the people in the foodchain, we wouldn’t have an NHS, we’d have a lot of hungry and frightened people huddled round the transistor radio, desperately hoping to conserve the batteries as they try and find out what is going on.

♥♥♥♥

What do I know? Speak to the expert, now available in paperback or ebook

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

A dog’s life?

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Farm dogs are a peculiar mix. Most of them are Border Collies, most of them are working dogs, and they’re trained rather than domesticated. Hence if you’re used to Labradors or similar, farm dogs can be a bit forbidding.

Some of it is they’re not used to new people and treat them with justifiable suspicion.

I remember talking to a vet many years ago and he commented about one farm dog he’d had to deal with. The farm was a small Lake District hill farm. As well as the obligatory sheep, the owners had a small herd of pedigree Hereford cattle and every year they’d raise a proportion of their bull calves to sell on as breeding bulls.

So every year the vet would turn up to castrate those that weren’t going to be kept for breeding. And on this particular day the vet arrived in the yard, gathered his enamelled bowl, his scalpel, his burdizzos and made his way to the shippon where the young bulls were tied up. The farmer went into the house to get the list of the bulls who were to be cut.

As the vet walked across the yard the farm dog sneaked up behind him and bit him on the back of the leg. This was no way to treat somebody who’d spent the war in the Seventh Armoured Division and he hurled the bowl at the dog, just missed, so he hurled the burdizzos. Finally as the dog fled through the fell gate up onto the fell, he hurled the scalpel. Memory insists that it stuck quivering in the wooden gate as the dog disappeared.

Anyway with the dog gone the vet picked up his bowl, his burdizzos and collected his scalpel from the gate, brushed them down and went into the shippon to wait for the farmer. When the farmer arrived nothing was said of the incident.

A year or so later the vet was on the farm and he and the farmer were chatting as they did the TB testing. The farmer commented, “Dogs can be bluidy strange creatures.”
The vet commented, “Well I’d have to agree with you on that one.”

The farmer continued, “Take that nasty sod of ours. Dammed good working dog but if anybody strange comes into the yard he bites them; all except for you. The minute he hears your car he’s through the fell gate and up onto the fell as fast as he can go.”

The vet just shrugged, “As you said, bluidy strange creatures.”

♥♥♥♥

If, in the interest of personal self-improvement, or you’re conducting a programme of serious academic research, or you are merely intent on increasing the gaiety of nations, you may want to read more.

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.

And so it begins (cue portentous music)

And so it begins

Obviously coyotes and roadrunners don’t really feature in our local ecology, but like many, I grew up with them. The animated antics of the two internationally famous protagonists kept us all amused. Indeed I’m still a fan.

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But still, it’s great but it’s not real life. We have chase scenes here but I’ve never yet seen gravity temporarily put on hold for artistic effect.

Sal hunting is a sight to see. She’ll be quietly bimbling about whilst I’m walking around looking stock and suddenly she’ll catch a scent. She’ll stop and look in the direction the scent is coming from.

Now the problem is, she’s not the tallest of dogs. She struggles to see over tall grass, never mind sedges and other things. So she’ll run towards the source of the scent but occasionally you’ll see her bound upwards so she can see where she’s going and perhaps catch a glimpse of what she’s hunting for.

So all you’ll see of the great pursuit is nothing but grass with occasionally Sal springing above it.

Nobody has ever taught her to hunt foxes, but every dog we’ve ever had just hated them. We had no input into this, they’d catch a scent of fox and even the quietest would set off in that direction like an avenging fury.

Whether it’s something instinctive based on ‘my flock, keep off’, or whether it’s some sort of ideological argument over just who is the apex predator round here I haven’t a clue.

So far I don’t think she’s ever caught one, or even got close enough for it to look like a possibility. The foxes just run and keep running and Sal will tend to stop at our boundary.

I was once checking cattle with old Boz and Jess. As I walked along the top of the hill, both dogs suddenly set off at speed. I was ignored, so ran to see what was going on. They’d seen a fox and pursued it for well over half a mile, down the hill, through the hedge, across the lane, through another hedge, across the first field, through another hedge across the second field, and then they came to the beck which marked our boundary. Boz and Jess stopped but the fox kept running. It ran straight through a flock of sheep who parted to let it through then huddled back together again for mutual security.

At this point the two dogs, their self-appointed task completed, decided that I might have wanted them for something and they trotted back to join me at a somewhat less impressive pace than when they’d a fox to pursue. It has to be admitted that they wore the expressions of dogs who had notched up a good job, well done.

Old Boz very nearly caught a fox on two occasions. When he was in his prime he was bigger and more solidly built than any fox. One morning after taking milk cows down to the field for the day he shot off into the hedge and whilst I hadn’t a clue what where anything was, you could track him by the noise and the leaves rustling. A young fox leapt out of the hedge, saw me and shot up the lane with Boz in hot pursuit. To throw off pursuit the fox jumped into a neighbour’s fish pond. Boz overshot and a soaking wet fox headed off in a different direction. Boz tried to take a short cut but the fox had wiggled under a gate and ran pell-mell between two ponies. At this point I was close enough to grab Boz because I felt we didn’t need the complication of the ponies joining in the mad escapade.

On the second occasion Boz disappeared into a hedge, a big dog fox dashed out with Boz in pursuit. Boz was gaining as they ran across the field and the fox dived through another hedge and away. Boz was stopped at the hedge but he had a couple of the long tail hairs of the fox clamped between his teeth.

Still, dogs are like that. A neighbour’s dog used to chase seagulls.

Strangely enough I don’t think any of them ever wrote off to the Acme Corporation to purchase specialised equipment, I suspect they were wise enough to realise where that would lead.

♥♥♥♥

It struck me that you might not have heard of the new collection of stories I’ve just published.

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.

Coming over all autumnal

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It’s true, it is. On this side of the Atlantic, we don’t have ‘fall.’ ‘Fall’ may be poetic but it isn’t really descriptive of how things work when you’re on the Atlantic coast and the somewhat brisk winds of Autumn sweep in. Our leaves don’t fall. They’re torn from the ground and lie in sodden drifts. Yes occasionally they can crunch under your feet and children have great fun scuffing their way through them. But here in the wet and windy west that isn’t as common as the writers of children’s stories seem to think.

On an agricultural front, autumn is very much the start of winter. Because of the year we’ve had, people are going for third and even fourth cuts of silage. At the moment the ground is still warm so grass is still growing; just not particularly quickly. On the positive side, whilst there’s been a fair bit of rain, the ground isn’t wet yet so we haven’t got to the stage where any idea of field work has to be abandoned. From memory the latest I took grass silage under normal conditions was the very end of October, so there’s still time.

It has to be said that in 2000 I took it even later. We had about ten acres I’d decided I’d get some round bales off, because I thought we’d need them. All I needed was three consecutive fine days. When talking about fine days, it merely didn’t have to rain. I wasn’t expecting miracles. But from September through to about Christmas, we never got those consecutive fine days. Finally I turned heifers into one of the fields to eat the grass off. The other field I still hoped I’d get something.

Eventually I spotted what might be a gap in the weather. I mowed the two thirds of the field I could without doing damage to the ground by trying to travel on the wet bits. Next morning the baler and wrapper appeared and they got everything baled and wrapped. Even as they were leaving the field, the rain started again.

Doesn’t matter, it is at least wrapped.

The next day it wasn’t raining I went with my tractor to cart the bales home. Back then I had a back spike on the hydraulic arms at the back of the tractor and a front spike on the loader (at the front of the tractor, but I suspect you’ve worked this out for yourself.)
I backed back to spike the first bale and managed to slowly lift it off the ground, just enough to travel without dragging the damned thing. Then I stuck the front spike into a second bale and tried to lift that up. The bale was so heavy that the tractor hydraulics couldn’t lift it more than a foot off the ground. Not only that but even with a bale on the back spike, any attempt to drive across the field led me into a diesel powered version of ‘Bambi on Ice’. I couldn’t get enough grip to do anything but spin inconsequentially sideways.

So I decided we needed technology. I phoned a mate who had a four-wheel drive tractor, “Could I borrow it?” Unfortunately he’d got rid of it, but he’d phone a mutual acquaintance and see if he’d cart the damned stuff in for me.

The mutual acquaintance could, and would do it, the next fine day.

On the next fine day, about 10am, a young lady walked into our drive. She was very elegantly attired, wore a smartly cut business suit, ‘sensible working heels’ and had her hair and nails nicely done. She was the P.A. for a very senior manager in a local factory owned by a major international company. Her boyfriend was the owner of the four-wheel driver tractor, and she had come out of work to guide him to where he was needed, as he hadn’t a clue where he was going. She checked this was the right place, made sure the task he was taking on was possible, watched for a while to make sure the job was running smoothly, and then carefully she picked her way across the mud and whatever on the yard, back to her car. She then drove back to work.

It did strike me that given the value the company put on her time, overseeing the bringing home of my round bales of silage was, for them, a somewhat expensive detour. After all, she was probably supposed to be organising conferences, ensuring the smooth arrival of plane tickets and engineers from distant parts, and generally guaranteeing that a very senior manager didn’t have his time wasted by muppets.

I suspect that from the company point of view, if they’d phoned me and given me two or three hundred pounds to just ‘sod off and stop bothering us’, they’d probably have been better off.

Still, we got the silage home. We needed it, it was a damned long winter. Even when I came to feed it, one bale was so heavy I couldn’t lift it high enough to drop it into a ring feeder. I merely half scuffed it along the ground to where the ring feeder was and then dropped the ring feeder over the bale.

Another bale was so wet that in a cold spell it froze, and when I cut the wrap off and dropped the bale into the ring feeder you could hear the crash as the ice all shattered.

And the picture? That’s pretty much the same scene, with Sal exploring quietly. The left hand picture is October, the right hand one is June

♥♥♥♥

Oh, and now’s the time to fill your boots

The nights are drawing in. You need a good book 🙂

Symphony for buzzards

image

Back when I was in my teens I went on some holidays with a young naturalist group up in the Inner and Outer Hebrides. One thing I remember was buzzards hovering high above. As we were told at the time, they were very rare and you wouldn’t see them elsewhere. (as an aside, the picture isn’t mine. I’m borrowing it)

Now there are tens of thousands of them pretty well everywhere. Looking sheep the other day Sal disturbed a pair of them who were cawing affectionately to each other. If you’ve never heard a buzzard

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1lGfphoCHw

 

This morning I took some feed down to a batch of lambs. Don’t think cute, think 35kg thugs. Anyway a week previously a bunch of bullocks had broken in to join them, and when they were chased out a dozen lambs and cull ewes had left with them. Anyway this morning I noticed that in the next field there were no bullocks in sight, but the errant sheep were present, watching anxiously as their erstwhile comrades were getting fed.

So as I had Sal with me, I opened a couple more gates and set about arranging for the wanderers to return. As I drove the quad into the other field, everything suddenly woke up. A buzzard that had been sitting in the grass near the gate took to its wings and flapped across to sit on the bridge over the beck. As it flew over, a brace of pigeons scattered and fled. A heron standing in the beck immediately took off to avoid the buzzard, wheeled round to avoid Sal, only to find that it was now passing low over the buzzard. So the heron banked sharply and sped of fast and low hoping to avoid being lunch.

As it was the buzzard seemed too interested in keeping a sharp eye on Sal and the quad.

Sal bounded across to the sheep and there was this squawk as a pheasant rocketed up from just in front of her. Now Sal does have this habit of chasing pheasants. Entirely fruitlessly it has to be said, but she seems to enjoy it. But in this case she had sheep to deal with so the pheasant was ignored and disappeared, skimming the top of the hedge and dropping to the ground on the other side.

The sheep weren’t entirely co-operative. They could see their friends and the feed through a low part of the hedge. So to them it was irrational for them to go away from this place, round a corner and through two gates when they could just try crashing through the netting. Fortunately the presence of Sal with quadbike support was enough to convince them that in this case the longer way round was probably the best.

One thing that did occur to me as I followed the sheep out of the field and shut the gate was, “What are all these buzzards eating?”

Given the population has increased from none to quite a number; they all have to be eating something. I once saw a buzzard strip the carcass of a 40kg lamb that had died. It took it two days. They have hearty appetites. Admittedly on the second day when I went to see what was happening the buzzard took a waddling run up before it tried to jump into the air and fly, and to be fair it did just about make it. But if you know what I mean, it was wallowing in the air rather than soaring.

If you increase the number of one successful predator, then the number of prey will decrease and something else will go hungry. That’s just how nature is.

 

 

 

 

Chasing the right pheasant

 

Game-bird-595070

I was walking round sheep this morning and Sal suddenly went into ‘hunting mode.’ When you’re a small dog and there is a lot of long grass about, this can be tricky. This is especially true as Border Collies tend to be very visual dogs. So she tackles this by either springing up into the air as she runs along; or even by standing up on her hind legs.

Then, when she’s spotted whatever she suspects is there, she’s down on all fours and she’s off at speed. At this point you might as well write her a strongly worded memo as shout instructions. Whilst she’s still looking you’re in with a chance of maintaining control, but once she’s off, she’s off.

And this morning Sal set off at a run. Suddenly two cock pheasants took off almost in front of her; these are obviously what she’s seen. She followed one, but it was airborne, over the hedge and away. She nosed about the general area, and I could see the other pheasant, running and hugging the ground at the same time. Suddenly Sal noticed it, spun on the spot and ran at it. The pheasant was airborne and away.

Well Sal had doubtless had an interesting interlude but she’d not got a pheasant. Indeed you could argue that by going for both at the start she’d got neither.

 

Sal’s antics occurred as I was pondering universal basic income. There’s yet another video circulating on facebook at the moment.

It strikes me that it’s a nice thing for sensible middle class and working class people who need a buffer. Not only that but they are the people who feel they pay out an awful lot of money and never see any of it back. For them I can see the basic income being a good thing

But having spent time in and around Foodbanks I would ask a number of questions.

But would it work for some Foodbank clients? Seriously those with mental health issues and substance abuse issues aren’t going to be helped by it. I know enough alcoholics to know that the money would just go on alcohol and not the rent. So whilst it might help the easy cases, the people who’re willing to engage, it won’t help the hard cases.

 

But you cannot have universal basic income without simultaneously considering the tax system. Otherwise like Sal, you’ll go for two pheasants and get neither.

Now obviously the universal basic income will have to be paid for. Some of it will be paid for by the fact you don’t need other payments. But which other payments? Will basic income mean no child benefit? Will it mean no more free prescriptions? Will it mean no housing benefit? No more free school dinners? No more university tuition fees?

And who gets it. Does a family of two adults get two basic incomes, even through their housing costs could well be lower per head than two people living separately? Do children get it and from what age?

Then there is the issue of tax rates and thresholds. Our current system can produce a cliff edge.

I had a year when my lady wife calculated I was paying 87% tax, because the previous year we’d had a year with no farming income (with milk prices down to 14 pence per litre we’d made a loss.) So under one of Gordon Brown’s schemes we got family credit (or whatever it was called)

Next year I managed to get some contracting work. That year I was on the equivalent of 87% tax because we lost the family credit and because our daughter was at university, we lost the money the government paid her in grant because of our low income.

So if you are not careful you could end up with the situation where basic income will actually become a trap, it’s not worth people trying to earn more. Personally I think it could work best if it were linked to a flat rate tax. That might come in anyway. It has a lot going for it in the business sector, rather than hitting companies with all sorts of taxes that are not linked to income of profitability (like business rates) and taxes on profits which are effectively voluntary for major international businesses, they would just take a flat percentage of turnover in the UK.

 

Then you get the problem of working hours as well. We know companies are paying the minimum wage and offering very low hours because they can. This is basically because the benefit system is picking up the rest.

So I think we have to make offering low hours expensive.

I’d say that somebody on any contract of employment, no matter how few hours, is a full employee, gets full holiday and sick pay entitlement and the company has to pay full national insurance, even if the person is on one hour a week.

Also if they’re on less than 16 hours, once they’ve worked for the company for six months THEY, not the company, decide when they work those hours. (Obviously it has to be when the place of employment is open.) That way they can fit two jobs together and make a sensible living.

 

Me, I’ve nothing against a basic income. But you cannot just introduce the basic income. I suspect it’d have to be part of a major overhaul of all sorts of things. Mind you, if done right, there’d be major savings because you could cut the number of employees in the DWP and HM Revenue and Customs by well over seventy percent.

I suspect that anybody introducing it will have to fight against a lot of vested interests.

♥♥♥♥

Oh yes, and I mentioned Sal. Some of her exploits appear in

 

As one reviewer said
“Another excellent compendium of observations from the back of Mr. Webster’s quad bike in which we learn a lot more about sheep, border collies and people. On the whole, I think the collies come out of it best. If you fancy being educated on the ways of the world, with a gentle humour and a nice line in well observed philosophy, you could do a lot worse than this.”

Pontifications along a road less travelled, when things get out of hand.

 

romeo_and_juliet-frank_dicksee

 

I learned long ago that people don’t read blogs about authors going on about the trials and tribulations of being authors. The world at large tends to cast a jaundiced eye in their direction and suggests, helpfully, that they might like to consider getting a proper job.
So I now want to hand the situation over to your imaginations. I want you to forget that I just spent over an hour walking round with Sal checking sheep. Dismiss entirely from your minds the fact that I spent a fair bit of that absentmindedly slapping the cleggs that landed on my arms or neck. Still it might be some sort of consolation for you to realise that I did at least shower before having my coffee.
So I want you to imagine the scene. Now, allowed briefly to play at being the author, I am sitting in the shade, looking out over the rolling vistas. I’m sipping an excellent mug of coffee, and my words are being taken down by a secretary who sits behind me (thus I’m not sure which of them it is.)
Somebody did ask me how I got into the writing business thing in the first place.

Once upon a time, as well as farming, I was working as a contractor for one of the farming/landowning lobby organisations. I was their National Livestock Adviser. Anyway after doing it for about ten years they finally believed me when I told them they needed somebody doing it full time. They then told me that it would be London Based, and I wished them joy in it and hoped they hired somebody they were happy with.

So I had a bit of time of my hands and probably needed to get ten years of dealing with EU regulation out of my head. So I wrote a fantasy novel, ‘Swords for a Dead Lady,’ and Benor Dorfinngil, Cartographer, bestrode the globe like a colossus.

Well to be fair to Benor, actually he rode through it in a thoughtful manner, and for somebody who could be described as a serial philanderer, he proved to be a remarkably moral character.

So much so that in the second book I wrote about him, ‘Dead Man Riding East’ he accidentally acquired a wife.

Benor novel covers
I did a couple more novels in the same background (all available in paperback. Ignore Amazon’s comment that they’re out of print. That’s just Amazon playing silly beggars because I haven’t used their favoured print on demand service. Order them and they will come.)  but these novels didn’t involve Benor.

Untitled

 

 

But by this time I realised that, yes, I could write a couple of novels a year, but frankly it was disheartening to see them just drop into the bottomless abyss that is indie publishing.
Anyway talking to people, listening and thinking, it struck me that the ebook allowed for the novella form to come back. So I experimented with that. I wrote ‘The Cartographer’s Apprentice.’

The Cartographers Apprentice

 

Basically Benor being married and sort of settled wasn’t really up for yet more adventures. He was somewhere in his fifties when I introduced him to the world, which meant that left plenty of room for his ‘youth.’
Not only that but I’d made a number of throwaway remarks about Benor’s past in the other two books. The Cartographer’s Apprentice gave me a chance to fill in the detail behind those remarks. So this collection of stories took Benor from finishing his training through his first professional engagements.

Then I attended a convention, selling my books (something possible with paperbacks), and a rather fierce and determined young lady asked me about ‘female roles in my books.’ Given at one point I was living with my wife, three daughters, my mother, sixty milk cows and even the dog was a bitch, I am not one who succumbs easily to the myth of the poor helpless female.

Anyway I pondered this. I couldn’t see any problem with the female characters in my books. But it struck me I’d start something new. I invented Shena, the mud jobber, and her husband Tallis Steelyard, the poet. To be fair, Shena was always going to be the grown up in this relationship. But still I tried writing the first of the Port Naain Intelligencer stories and it just bogged. It was just hard work. Then suddenly, as Shena was leaving the barge, she stepped over the prone body of their sleeping lodger. The lodger turned out to be Benor who had somehow insinuated himself into the story. From that point on the story came alive for me and the first collection of six was written. A collection because you can read them in any order, six because that’s what I wrote. Not only that, they were all written and ready for publishing before I published the first one. My idea was to try and copy the old pulp magazine idea where you didn’t wait for the next great novel; you just automatically picked up the next copy of the magazine when it came out.

Port Naain Intelligencer covers together

 

But you’ll notice that I’ve now discovered Tallis Steelyard. Mike Rose-Steel, my editor, is also a poet and he asked to borrow Tallis and write some poems for him. This is how Lambent dreams was born. He wrote the poems and the literary criticism; I had Benor write the stuff which puts it all in context for the person who doesn’t dwell in Port Naain.

Lambent Dreams Cover5

 

 

And of course, Tallis is now an author on Amazon, so of course he must have a blog. I created a monster! I’ve worked out I have over 400,000 words of Tallis Steelyard stories, some published in ebook form.

three book covers

2nd three tallis books

 

But as an aside, if you’ve got a blog, you’ve got to keep the blog going. I discovered that the hard way. In 2016, with the referendum campaign, I got so hacked off by the total nonsense being spouted by both sides I didn’t do a blog post for a couple of months, because otherwise I’d have upset far too many people.

It took me to the end of 2017 before I had more people stopping by and reading the blog than I had in 2015.

So with Tallis, I’ve been determined to produce at least a story a week. In case you don’t know it, its’ across at

https://tallissteelyard.wordpress.com/

 

But anyway, I’d always intended to do a second Port Naain Intelligencer collection, another six Benor stories.

Yet I suddenly realised that to an awful lot of people Benor was just part of the world of Tallis Steelyard. So how to educate them?
When I released ‘A licence to print money’

A licence to print money

 

I decided I’d have another Benor story running on the blog tour. My intention was to make it complete. I know that a lot of people hate cliff hangers, and I didn’t want to produce half a tale and then charge people for the last bit.

So this story, ‘A measured response’ ran for nine episodes and had a beginning, middle and end.

Even as it ran on the blog tour I realised that there was more to tell. So I wrote the extra bit, which effectively is the final third. My cunning plan is that those people who liked the blog tour have a choice. They can be happy with the ending they got, or they can invest a little and see what else happened.

 

And what’s next?
Well there’s more Tallis stuff being edited up and ready to go, and of course the Port Naain Intelligencer is back. There will be more Benor.