Saturday, 25 July 2009

Battling on

Shep's still clipping sheep, can see the end is in sight and valiantly battling on to get there. Battling on is truly how it feels with the current weather conditions stacked against anyone attempting to clip dry sheep, I am now a week behind in being finished but nothing is taking much hurt so there is no sleep lost.

Actually managed to clip a handful outside today, the weather forecast was for a fine day - all day! Now you don't miss a chance like that when you've got sheep to clip out at the pens in the middle of no where.

The conditions were pleasant, the sheep co-operative and all was sorted by lunchtime. As the season wears on sheep generally get quicker clipping, I've been topping the 30 an hour mark this last week, which is fine by me but slow by professional standards. Two shearers went into a farm in the Scottish Borders last week, after two hours one had 120 on his clock (tally counter) by tea time the 760 were clipped out - obviously we have a far more relaxed approach to the job here in Tarset!

Interestingly enough on the TV tonight I learnt that the record for shearing sheep was 720 in nine hours, that equates to 80 an hour or one every 45 seconds........ Umm! makes thirty an hour seem a gay measly amount!

Clipping on the roadside can draw attention to what you are doing and the brave may well stop to have a crack (chat), it can be a welcome excuse for a break and it is always good to know some people are interested in what you're doing (so long as it is for the right reasons). So it was today, a couple from Manchester drew up and the crack flowed.

They weren't lost, no, just heading for home after a holiday in the area, although it seemed more like they didn't want to head for home - life in the sheep pens was far too interesting! It took little persuasion for one of them to 'have a go' and not too bad a job was done either, especially as it was probably the first sheep the man had ever handled, don't suppose there's many sheep in Manchester although having never been there I actually wouldn't know.

I found it quite humbling that something I take for granted in my simplistic little life had given someone else such a buzz and most probably ended their holiday on a high, one of those tales to be recalled for years to come no doubt. It's quite true that the small things in life can sometimes mean so much. Have to say though, being the skinflint that I am I didn't offer him 90p for clipping her!!

Friday, 17 July 2009

Soggy shot

Shep hasn't ventured far today but thought I'd share this soggy shot with you all - not a sheep in sight!

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Drying the washing

have you ever struggled to get the washing on the line, dried and off again before getting wet? If you have then you'll appreciate the frustrations facing Shep and Co at the moment. The weather is slightly disappointing to say the least and getting sheep dry enough to clip is a struggle (that's an understatement!)Bare fields are always a help to dry sheep in as the long grass isn't there for them to brush their wool against, you have to keep them on their feet to give the skirts and bellies a chance to catch the wind and help them dry off. Hours can be spent with wet sheep, herding them around trying to catch whatever air there is. Heat is helpful and sharp dries the backs off but with the blackfaced sheep having long flowing wool it can take more than sun on their backs to dry them.

The sheep are run into a shed as a shower approaches, being let out again once it has passed until the next shower arrives and in they go again. In weather such as we are having at the moment it is not unheard of to commence shearing in the mid/late afternoon - makes for a long day and late finish. It has also been known to get caught by a shower and should it be heavy enough and wets the sheep enough then basically you just have to wait till tomorrow arrives and try again.

Some are lucky enough to be able to house the sheep overnight in a shed. Should the weather blow out mid afternoon and sheep be dry by evening they are run into the shed and so long as the shed doesn't spring a leak they will be dry and ready to clip first thing in the morning. However you go about the job, it is all time consuming and frustrating. Fortunately the shearing season around here is getting well through, many were able to take advantage of the better weather earlier on, small consolation though for those still trying to get their sheep clipped.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Blimey! Climate Change!

Last week the sweat was dripping off everywhere, this week it's been the rain. Wellies and leggings - a shock to the system I'll say. Okay the truth is I've been in the Rede valley for a few days, I'm told the North Tyne missed out on the thunder, lightening, cloudbursts, hailstones, flash flooding, oh yes, they apparently had sunshine, but me? 10 miles max from home and I got wet - very wet! made worse by the fact I was wearing my summer leggings, they're the ones with holes in, quite a big one on the knee, caused by a ewes horn, fortunately she left the skin on my leg but managed an impressive two sided tear in the leggings, right on the bend of the knee.

So why not buy a fresh pair of leggings I hear you ask? Well d'y know, I believe in getting my moneys worth out of them. I do have a good pair, the ones I got for lambing time, I'm saving them for the winter when it's supposed to be wet. The more holey than godly ones are useful for keeping clean when doing those dirty jobs that are a regular when working with sheep, unfortunately they ain't too good at keeping me dry - minor problem, its summer you know!

It is summer - honest! Have to say I did wonder this morning, I was off gathering away out - bye, not terribly early either and bye 'eck if felt autumnal, gloves would have gone down well on the quad this morning I can tell you, talk about gathering in the cool of the day, we must have been a good ten degrees cooler than last week, I really had to pinch myself and remind me it is July. Isn't it? Made shearing a more bearable pastime today however so there was a plus side! Oh! also the radio is up ad running again - amazing what a screwdriver and a coat hanger can do, senility has returned to the shearing shed, I no longer have to while away the hours thinking, can just listen instead!

Tuesday, 7 July 2009


Well here I am again and still on the shearing vein. We've had some very hot weather of late, humidity levels have been high and believe you me on occasions sweat has been dripping off every bit of the body that gravity would allow it to drip from, I must say though last Wednesday was a true sauna, not a dry stick on my back all day. Being slightly vain I couldn't wait to jump on the bathroom scales after the evenings soak and was dismayed to find I'd gained 2lb! Life is grossly unfair at times! I do believe they say muscle weighs heavier than fat, I'm willing to believe that!

The above photo shows the scrow in a shearing shed - my scrow actually, always have been an untidy person! The picture ought to give you an idea of what is actually going on. The sheep were gathered early in the morning, easier when the day is cooler but also the forecast was for rain coming in mid morning, so the lambs were run off and ewes housed by breakfast time. Half of the shed is out of the picture to the left of the scrow, this is where most of the flock is housed, they then move to a holding pen where they filter into the clipping race. They are tipped out of the race onto their backsides and the wool taken off them with an electric shearing machine. In this instance the fleeces are stacked to be wrapped when someone is available as the lambs in the pens were receiving a worm dose and no one can be everywhere at once.

The fleeces have to be cleaned of any dirty daggings, sheep don't use toilet roll and can sometimes be lazy at lifting their tails. If the wool is packed without the daggs being removed money will be docked from the wool cheque. Once cleaned, either by using hand shears or the muck may pull off, the wool is wrapped - sides thrown into middle then rolled from backside to neck. The wrapped wool is placed into the wool sheets which once full are stitched and a label attached with the producers name, address and type of wool.

Once the farmer has all his sheep clipped and the wool packed he can book it into the wool board to deliver it himself or have it collected. A producer has to be registered with the british wool board to have them accept his wool ( Prior to the shearing season the producer receives wool sheets, labels and string delivered to the farm, he will also receive a price list of the price per kg offered that year. The price per kg for blackface wool this year has a top price of 43p per kg going to below 10p per kg for grey, black or discoloured wool.

We weighed one of these fleeces today, in the lamb weigh crate I may add so its not scientific to the last gram but a good ewe fleece came out at 2kg, there won't be many heavier than that and there'll be many lighter. So at the top price offered by the wool board that fleece is worth 86p, the shearer (me) charges 90p per sheep.......

Gone are the days when the wool cheque used to pay the rent, we are to the point where it doesn't even pay the shearer. So why take it off? Welfare as much as anything. Wool did used to be a crop, and viable at that, but today shearing is very much a welfare issue and nothing else. Sheep get maggots especially in the hot humid conditions we've been getting of late. Dirt on their tails can be all the blow fly requires to lay its eggs but even sheep that have been cowed out (dagged) - all dirty wool removed from the back end - they can still get struck, bird shit on the back, dirty feet marks from being in the pens or a lamb that likes to nestle on its mothers back or even for no obvious reason at all. The flies lay their eggs and if conditions are favourable those hatch within 24 hours, by two days the sheep can be in an awful mess, nature can be very cruel and in severe cases the stress of maggots burrowing into the flesh can result in death. I know I've joked before that sheep can find a way to die but I'm sure this one isn't by choice.

So, there's the problem of maggots if the sheep aren't shorn. There is also the problem of them getting woollier, coz the stuff doesn't stop growing by next year they would look like great balls of wool and so on, imagine not having your hair cut, or combed for years...... Bet you would be itchy if nowt else, yep! you're right sheep get external parasites as well as internal ones, although shearing doesn't eradicate these it does give the nasty critters less cover to hide in.

In the good old days shearing was a true social event to the point a shearling wether (last years male lamb) would be killed to feed the many shearers which came from the neighbouring farms, either on foot or by pony, carrying their hand shears ready to clip away all day and often dance the night away in the loft to some accordion or fiddle which would also have been transported along with the shears. Today it remains sociable to a point but the noise of the electric machine droning away and the radio (when I get it mended) knocks the crack ( conversation/banter) on the head other than when stopping for breaks.

So shearing is hard work and none profitable for the farmer( as Willie Weatherson said in the Hexham Courant this week a small cheque is better than paying to have the wool disposed of). The farmer knows his sheep are a lot safer from the damage the blow fly can cause and hopefully he wont have to worry about them getting cast on their backs any more, giving him some relief from the twice daily herding he has been doing since lambing time. And the shearer? having got one farm clipped out he/she can move on to the next farm.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Danger in the countryside

I wasn't going to write anything for a day or two, however, I have just had the customary hot bath/long soak after being cooked like a lobster all afternoon whilst clipping big, fat, cantankerous sheep out doors in the blazing sun. Whilst in the bath I got on thinking - always dangerous! I had watched the news previous to my soak in order to find out what the weather was going to do over the next few days, there was a Look North news bulletin regarding a person injured by cattle in 2003 and like I say, it got me on thinking.

Cattle can be dangerous and anyone reading this needs to know, in fact, now that we have freedom to roam in this country, allowing free access to some hill ground, the government itself ought to ensure that everyone is aware of the dangers in the countryside.

Back to cattle. All animals are protective of their off spring, cattle are big animals and therefore pose a greater threat. There are suckler cow herds here in the North Tyne. A suckler cow runs loose out on the hills and pastures with her calf at foot. Often a young calf will be left lying back somewhere out of sight, the cow will return to feed it and once it's belly is full it will lie down content and she'll wander back and join the rest of the herd. Should you come across a calf on its own steer clear, do not disturb it, have eyes in the back of your head and keep well away, do not put yourself between the herd of cows and the calf. Imagine you had a child a distance away from you and you saw a stranger approaching or worse still lingering, what would your natural instinct be?? The same as the cows, except she is a great deal bigger than you.

As the calves get older they join the herd, often lying in groups with a matriarch keeping a watchful eye as other mothers wander further away grazing. The instinct of protection is just as strong but now there is more than one cow to consider, steer clear and be aware that there are cattle about.

Then there are what we call stirks, these are older calves, weaned off their mothers, young cattle by rights. Stirks are often seen running together in herds on pasture ground throughout the summer months, they don't have a mother to protect them but they do have each other. Cattle in general are curious animals, stirks in particular, anything out of the norm they like to go and investigate, that includes you going for a walk. They will most probably come wandering over or even possibly galloping over to have a look, will follow you, frolicking around and getting excited like a group of idle teenagers, not intent on causing harm but over excitement could lead to anything, be on your guard.

Walking a dog amongst cattle is not a wise move, you may not realise the cattle are there, once you get them in your sights alter your track if it is going to take you near them. When walking a dog on any sort of farm land it ought to be on a lead and under control, however, should you find yourself in the position that cattle have taken an interest in you and you feel threatened by their company drop the lead and encourage the dog to run. A dog can run a darn sight faster than you and it is posing a greater threat to the cattle than you are - get rid of the dog, do not try to protect it, let it loose and find the quickest route out of there, but may I add that if you run the cattle will almost most definitely run too. Try to remain calm and find the shortest route to a safe place which is most often the other side of a fence/ wall or whatever.

Ideally just steer clear of cattle full stop, don't be pig headed and insist on sticking to the correct path, make a detour.

Cattle aren't just a threat to the general public they can be a threat to those who work with them day in and day out, especially when fresh calved, fortunately farmers and stock men understand the nature of the beast, but believe you me they can still be caught out.

Many years ago I reared a calf on the bucket, it was a blue grey bullock and dead cute, little orphan baby - aah... I guess I became its surrogate mother, it would skip and frolic around when it saw me, give me gentle nudges and bumps with its head, all good fun. Once weaned off the bucket it ran with the rest of the herd and eventually wintered with the other stirks in the cattle shed. Twice a week I would go into the shed amongst the stirks and bed them up with small bales of straw. My pet calf was now the size of half grown cow and it would run to me, skip and frolic around, kick its heels up a height (to my head height) and dunt me with its head (knocking me off my feet). I had to carry a stick, and calf and I were no longer great friends, there was absolutely no malice intended but the size and weight it had grown into meant it was just a matter of time before I was going to get hurt.

It's not just cattle that pose a threat in the countryside but right at this moment I don't have time to educate you any further. Anyone reading this please spread the word and use your common sense. Farmers ought not to be held responsible for their animals natural instincts, the government, who passed the right to roam act, ought to educate everyone to help them understand the hidden dangers in the countryside. on that note I'm off to bed - long overdue.


Maggots are astir in the countryside, no reason why they shouldn't be the weather conditions are perfect for them, hot and humid. We'd all sooner not see the little blighters however as they can cause a great deal of misery to both the sheep and the shepherd.

In the house you have to be aware in weather like this that the blow fly is around and generally keep any food happed up or in the fridge, anything dying outdoors will soon be moving with maggots and will disintegrate in a number of days. However, the blow fly doesn't just go for stationary, dead food sources, it heads for live food sources as well and sheep are one of them.

The problem today has been lame lambs and sheep with maggots in the feet, the sheep has been lying long enough for the fly to lay her eggs and within 24 hours maggots will have emerged, they eat away at the dead, stinking part of the foot and can actually do a better job of dressing a bad foot than we can, however, they don't always stop there.

The sheep lies down and tucks its feet in, the maggots start to wriggle around and soon climb onto the wool of the belly and then away up the flank of the sheep. Recent years have seen burrowing maggots -"black heeded buggers" - they do just that, burrow under the flesh of the animal causing immense distress and not always easily removed. It's quite a problem when sheep suffer from fly strike, nature at its worst.

there are products on the market which help alleviate the problem, some are pour ons which are a growth inhibitor, the eggs can be laid but don't usually hatch and if they do the maggots fail to grow. There are others which actually kill the eggs before they can be hatched, however these only seem to work on the actual part of the wool which they were administered to. The best approach if conditions are serious enough is plunge dipping, where the sheep is immersed in water with dip added to it, there again though the dips aren't as good as they used to be and although helpful against lice, ticks, scab they aren't always totally effective against blow fly. It often seems that anything which is hugely successful ends up being taken of the market.

Fortunately these sheep have been treated with the growth inhibiting pour on which won't prevent strike in the feet but ought to prevent the little blighters spreading over the sheeps bodies.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

shearers nipple

We've all heard of joggers nipple but Shep has come across a new phenomenon - shearers nipple - umm..... An uncomfortable complaint which I am putting down to the hot weather as this is definitely a first for me - must have a word with the lads and see if they have any advice - could be interesting!! To date have had suggestions of cabbage leaves but will go with the savlon cream, don't fancy having cabbage leaves strapped to my chest - never have been very fond of cabbage even though it grows in the garden.

Sheep suffer from sore tits too. I guess teats is the correct terminology but around here tits goes. They can get chaffed and cracked and also can sometimes get orf blisters on them, of course the shepherd is never going to know unless she kicks the lambs off when they go in to suck or else she is cowped on her backside to expose her bag to view.

Udder cream can be a big help, often used on cattle which are easier to diagnose as their tits are easily seen. Most sheep just manage to put up with their discomfort, as I am going to do, but occasionally it can be a pre cursor to mastitis which is a very painful and serious complaint for the ewe which can result in the loss of the use of her bag (udder) and therefore the loss of her use as a breeding sheep. Sheep generally look sick when they're going down with mastitis, hang their lugs and feel sorry for themselves, on being moved a stiffness in a back leg is often noticed. It is usually treated with penicillin based antibiotics. Caught in time the results can be positive but you really have to be on the ball to catch it quick. I was once told to cut the tit off, once the mastitis has gone from the very hot stage to the bag feeling cold then the bag is deemed dead and removal of the tit doesn't seem to cause any distress to the animal allowing the bad to drain out and preventing the whole bag from bursting as in the case of black quarter which is a gangrenous form of mastitis. There is no doubt in my mind that this remedy is very effective but only to be done once the bag is dead, the ewe will go forward and get relief from the condition. Thank the lord it's only shearers nipple I'm being bothered by!!

Friday, 3 July 2009

Ewe clipping

Ewe clipping is getting under way, for all there are alot of hill sheep in Tarset there are also those which run on the lower ground and they do clip quicker. Here we are into July and given another fortnight many of the sheep will all be shorn, weather permitting.

Ewes are a treat after the hogg clipping, heavier admittedly but more co operative and if you're lucky they'll have bare bellies - y'just canna whack a bare belly! Two shearers evenly matched clipping side by side - the one who gets the bare belly will finish first with insinuations of whaling from the other. whaling (I've got absolutely no idea how it's meant to be spelt) is the age old tradition of picking the best clipping sheep out of the pen, always been a bone of contention between shearers, keeps the competition strong to see who can get to the pen first to get the best out.

So how do you tell a good clipping sheep? you can be caught out but generally there are one or two pointers, the main one being the crown (between the horns) if there is still wool and hairy bits between the horns then look out, she'll likely be slower going and could even stick the comb up a bit. No sign of muffy stuff between the horns and wool well opened out at the neck could well be a godsend and a bare tail will almost always go with a bare belly.

Many sheep now run along a shearing race to be clipped, they filter along in single file and are caught out of side doors - still there are accusations of whaling "how'd this un get past your door then?" "struggle to push her up did you" "how come you're getting all the bare bellies?". At the end of the day it's all good humoured banter, the sheep are to be clipped and that's what'll happen.

The ewes are gathered and the lambs run off and left standing in the pens until their mothers have had their short back and sides when they will be reunited. Quite a shock for the lambs, they've been running alongside these big woolly mothers for a couple of months then suddenly there is a complete change in appearance, they still manage to get themselves mothered up all the same. The lambs grow overnight, it's striking how much bigger the lambs appear to be once their mothers have lost a years growth of wool and shrunk in size!

There are mixed reports regarding the clipping, personally I think hill ewes are better going than the 'in-bye' ewes, they would possibly get a bigger slip in condition prior to lambing, then coming onto the lambing pastures and a bite of cake would give them a lift. After lambing time when they returned to the hills their ground had freshened up nicely, the hills had greened up and the ewes were on a rising plane, all helping to give them decent rise at clipping time. There'll be someone out there totally disagree with me but then not all conditions are the same on every farm so there will always be variations in the flocks.