Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Unusual request

Shep has received an unusual request. I don't lead a normal life so really there is nothing unusual about an unusual request.

Could I advertise a book and a DVD? Always willing to oblige (if caught in the right frame of mind), I thought it a good idea, whether anyone is likely to read this is a different matter but here goes:

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Bellingham Auction Mart October 2004
by Helen Brown

It is 80 pages, 200 plus photos black and white and colour covering the last 3 sales held at Bellingham mart with a brief history.

Published by Blurb Publishers
To be launched at Bellingham Show. Saturday 29th August after which it will be released and available direct from the blurb website
Retailing at £17.00 softcover, £24.00 hardcover.

Back Cover reads: "Bellingham, Northumberland has been the home of livestock auctions since the 1860's. However the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001 and the subsequent livestock regulations slowly brought about the demise of Bellingham Mart. October 2004 saw the last livestock to be sold by auction in Bellingham.

This book is a photographic record of that last sale and the two sales held in 2003. A look back through history."

Flap reads: "Feet traipsed the pens and alleyways of Bellingham sales for over 100 years. The auction in it's many formats survived two world wars, afforestation throughout the Borders, the swamping of the Upper North Tyne by Kielder Reservoir and a decline in stocking rates due to Farm Stewardships.

The odds were stacking up. Throughput of stock was declining. Eventually regulations following the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak helped bring about the inevitable - 'The Last Mart'

Hexham and Northern marts reproduced the 'Bellingham' ring at their Hexham premises and life moved on.

Memories hold strong. Tales will be told for many years to come and hopefully this photographic essay will ensure Bellingham Auction mart and all it stood for will never be forgotten.

Back flap reads: Helen Brown has lived and worked near to Bellingham in the Northumberland National park for the past 27 years and is a shepherd, in recent times a contract shepherd, who carries a camera whenever she can. She managed to record the last sale at Bellingham Mart even though it is unnatural for her to point the camera at people, preferring to catch the flora and fauna that surrounds her every day life.

Helen adds:

"This wonderful collection has been three years in the making. Taking the pictures was the easy part, given the wealth of subjects available and the affinity I have with the mart, researching the history and editing them proved to be the hard part. The photos were taken because Bellingham mart has always held a place in my heart, the people and livestock, the atmosphere and the conditions made it a very special place. I hope that this affection shines through the pictures and is shared by many farmers. Uunfortunately, due partly to foot and mouth and increasing drifts of red tape the mart became unviable and we lost it.

I have tried to capture the personality of the place and show the farmers and mart workers as the characters they were. I have included everything from birds eye views of the pens to the cobwebs in the mornings covered in dew. Many people have said since they would love to have a collection of my photos, therefore I've produced this book. It is self funded, digitally printed and self published with me having purchased 250 copies"

A friend adds: "The Last Mart has been self-published by Helen Brown of Tarset, Northumberland. Helen is a shepherd and is well-known and well liked in the farming community. The Last Mart is a triumph for Helen - a busy shepherd working in remote areas at the height of the summer sheep season who uses an American company to self-publish a book, printed in the Netherlands, about the past in this corner of Northumberland."

“The Last Sheep Sale” – a new DVD Launched by
Northumberland National Park & Bellingham Heritage Centre
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The poignant, last day of the North Tyne’s historic sheep mart is captured for posterity in a moving production on DVD and launched on Saturday 29 August.

“The Last Sheep Sale” retails at £12.99 from The Heritage Centre, Bellingham and
online from Northern Heritage

It was the end of an era for the hill farmers of the North Tyne and Redesdale, but fortunately the last ever sheep sale at the historic mart in the market town of Bellingham, Northumberland was captured on film for posterity for Northumberland National Park in 2004. On Saturday 29th August 2009, a new DVD using this footage becomes available to the public, with the moving last moments of an event that has taken place for hundreds, maybe a thousand years.

“The Last Sheep Sale – a local tradition gone but not forgotten” will be launched by Northumberland National Park and the Bellingham Heritage Centre at the town’s annual agricultural show next Saturday. From the same stable as “The Last Horsemen” and “The Last Fishermen”, the sensitively-produced DVD lets the voices of the community speak for themselves. They talk about the mart’s importance for the continuity of a traditional rural way of life; for the memories of generations, and above all for its vital role as a social centre for an industry that is both remote and solitary.

In its heyday, Bellingham Mart’s second lamb sale was one of, if not the largest, sale days in all of England, with lambs and sheep from this centre sold as far afield as the South Coast. The closure of the mart in 2004 was a great blow to farmers and traders across a wide area of Northumberland. It not only meant that farmers and livestock breeders have to travel further to sell their animals – to Hexham or Wooler, but the town lost a lively event that brought welcome business to local shops, caf├ęs and bars. It was the end too of a great social gathering where people met friends from far and wide. The Bellingham Mart closed because it was affected by reduced income following the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in 2001, and the cost of complying with new government regulations was beyond its means.

Bellingham is an ancient settlement located at a key point in the great network of drove roads between Scotland and England that were once vital routes in the process of fattening and selling cattle and sheep, and it is likely that the Bellingham Mart grew out of this old cross-border trade.

Production of the DVD was made possible by sponsorship from Northumberland National Park Authority and a donation from Hexham and Northern Marts.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Time passes by

I've noticed the rowan (mountain ash) berries have been ripened for a while now. The swallows seem very scarce, we had a depleted supply of them this summer anyhow but now there are only a few hardy souls remaining. The bilberries are ripe. The heather is in bloom. The mornings are colder causing heavier dews. Rose hips of the dog rose are ripening. Brambles are ripe (didn't they used to ripen in October?). The haw berries are ripening. The year must be rolling on.

Is it Autumn? Where did the summer go? It seems to hit me like a ton of bricks every year, the spring flies by when busy lambing and summer arrives. Before I know it I've missed summer too and Autumn is here.

I know I spend most of the summer bending over looking at my feet whilst clipping sheep but I find it hard to comprehend that I still manage to miss it.

I do believe that maybe I haven't missed it all, it just never really happened. Last summer was undoubtedly atrocious, this summer has been marginally better but mebbes not better enough for me to be able to fully appreciate it. That must be the answer.

The nights have been cutting in for a while now, we will have to give in eventually and close the curtains, a sad time really, an acceptance that winter is nearing.

I have always been one of the few who looks forward to winter. The short days meaning you can get finished and into the house at night, an opportunity to recharge the batteries, ready to face another busy year. Unfortunately this year I am not looking forward to the winter as I usually would, again I would be tempted to blame the weather, not enough sun on the back to charge the body up ready for the dark winter days.

Time flies by, it seems the clipping and hay has only just finished and I am drawing the conclusion that if we are not into autumn then we're very close. A new season and a beautiful one at that is heading our way.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Falstone Show - what a day!

After a week of horrendously wetting showers Falstone Show morning dawned dry and bright and continued along the same vein all day. Such a bonus to not only have a day off but great weather thrown in for good measure, everyone who turned out seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves. The ground even managed to dry up allowing boots to be worn, show goers were so fortunate (for the second year running) to be able to experience such a pleasant day.

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There was an excellent turnout of sheep, the industrial tent was heaving, dog and hound classes were well supported, children's sports fiercely contested.......... as usual Falstone show was a huge success.Only drawback being it flew by and I'm sure I missed half of it. Well done and thank you to the committee and many helpers.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Grass comes free, or does it?

The grey cells are working overtime, mental exhaustion will soon kick in..... I was thinking (which is always dangerous!). To many whom are not in the know it may be easy to conclude that farms have grass, which grows in fields, which is a natural process and therefore must be a cost free commodity - seems logical to me when I think of it along those lines.

If only life were so simple. Still on the hay and silage vein I'll concentrate on that for now. It would be far too complicated for me at the moment to discuss grassland in general.

If you have a lawn then undoubtedly you'll find you have to cut the grass, whether with and electric or petrol lawnmower the fuel is a cost. Breakages? Has that lawnmower ever coughed, hiccuped then died? Do you repair or upgrade? Second hand or new? More cost - similar problems facing the farmer and his hay machinery, slightly different costs considering a tractor suitable for all the jobs required on a hill farm will probably set you back forty grand (the cheaper end of tractors due to them being smaller models), a big round baler can be acquired at half the price of the tractor. One farmer told me recently the baler would have to kick out 16,000 bales before it paid for itself (I'll take his word for that, mathematics is not a strong point of mine unless I'm counting sheep).

Back to your lawn. Maybe you don't have a lawnmower, preferring to hire a gardener and his gear to do the job. Farmers have the same options. A neighbour has had contractors in to bale and wrap his silage at a cost of £4.50 a bale. The wrap is bought by the farmer, at present it is £50+ per roll( it pays to shop around), with a roll averaging 27 bales, therefore working out at approx £2 per bale.

The silage bale has so far cost £6.50 to bale and wrap. The grass was cut by the farmer. His service bill for the tractor prior to hay time was over a thousand pounds, he needed fresh blades for the mower, diesel, grease, oil. The grass was turned and rowed up, tines were needed for the hay bob and yet more diesel, grease and oil. Then the bales needed lead from the field, where they were baled, to the pad where they are wrapped and stacked, a contractor charges by the hour for this as distances led vary, the farmer actually led his own but hired in another tractor and a man to operate it. The cost of that silage bale is rising.........

So, it costs money to produce a silage bale but the grass was free - wasn't it?

There is the saying 'there's nowt free in life', personally I tend to disagree, however, when it comes to grass there is a lot of truth in that saying.

Your lawn? Ever had trouble with it? moss growing killing the grass off, or maybe it just got a hammering, trampled by kids or dogs, and you found yourself down the garden centre buying bits and bobs to improve it. Similar problems face the farmer but on a far larger scale, we are talking many acres not square yards.

Hay/silage fields are the best ground on the farm. Hay/silage is what gets your livestock through the winter months, a very important crop, the quality of which reflects on the quality and health of your stock.

Being the best grazing the fields are used throughout the year. Lambs will be spaened (weaned) onto them shortly to take advantage of the new growth, ewes may be tupped in them and are often fetched into them to be lambed or they may be used for keeping ewes and twins on as the quality of grazing is better. Eventually, after lambing time they are shut down and allowed to grow into a crop. Simple really.

Except, like your lawn, the hay fields do get a hammering, they have fed many mouths and hopefully kept everything on a rising plane, they can get tired and need assistance.

Manure, both natural and man made is often required to give the field a lift, get it to produce plenty of crop through the growing season (which is a short one up here in Tarset). Obviously the livestock grazing the ground has been manuring as they go along which is a great help but more is required if that huge stash of winter fodder is to be available.

Natural manure generally comes from the cattle sheds, a by product. Cattle that are housed throughout the winter don't half produce one hell of a pile of shit (call it dung if you feel more comfortable with that). Well, that really simplifies the job, cows do what they're good at, eat the silage and dutifully pass it out the other end then it can go back on the fields, help produce more silage and so it goes......

Cattle in sheds need to be bedded up, you wouldn't like to lie in your own excrement for months would you? Neither do they, and so the farmer puts down bales of straw which soaks up all that skitter and piddle and leaves the cattle to lie comfortably whilst chewing their cuds and dreaming of spring time and fields to frolic around in.

Straw is the stalks which corn grows on, wheat, barley, oats...... which is harvested in the back end on lower running farms, the stalks, like hay and silage gets baled up and sold on to the livestock farmer for bedding.

So, we have the straw, a by product from the corn harvest. The corn men would often burn the straw/stubble on the fields which put nutrients back into the ground, there are rules and regulations now (fancy that!)and so straw is now often chopped by the combine harvester then ploughed back into the ground.

But livestock farmers need it....... Umm, ever heard of supply and demand?

The arable men face costs just like the silage men, the weather causes problems too. No one really wants bad straw, mouldy, damp stuff doesn't do the job as well (imagine damp cotton wool against dry - the absorption rate definitely varies).

Good straw becomes a highly sought after commodity and in recent years the cost of buying in straw has rocketed, last spring it was dearer to buy in than the equivalent in hay or silage, this year it is prophesised it will be worth more per ton than the crop it was carrying.

That good old farmyard manure isn't free after all, in fact it is down rightly expensive.

Man made manure is obviously going to come at a cost. Fertiliser, as it is generally known as, comes in a variety of forms. Unlike spreading muck, with fertiliser you can buy the compound which your ground requires. More potash, less nitrogen, etc. You have a number of choices to suit your particular needs. Last year saw the cost of fertiliser double, this year it had not halved (things rarely come back down in price)but risen again (albeit slightly). I have been told it probably costs £45 and acre for fertiliser (although costs will vary depending on types and quantity spread) and that you would hope to get an average of 10 bales to the acre (again size of bale comes into it)

As I said earlier mathematics are not a strong point of mine (how on earth I passed my O'level I'll never know), but even with my very limited mathematical abilities I can definitely say that grass does not come free. That bale of silage comes at a cost.

Oh! I nearly forgot (told you mental exhaustion would kick in) - rules and regulations now in force mean that the farmer has to pay to dispose of the plastic wrap, net wrap and strings which are left over after his silage has been used - yet more expense! A box of matches was a lot cheaper.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009


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Back to haytime. You've already seen this grass being cut on an earlier blog. The cut row of grass is known as a swath (unsure of the spelling but that is how it is pronounced). It is often left to kill on the top but some prefer to get the green grass scattered out as soon as possible to allow it to get air and sun at it. There are mower conditioners used nowadays which beat and crimp the grass as it is cut allowing it to wilt quicker, they will also leave it spread out if required, all aiding to getting a quicker kill. This mower is the older version which basically just cuts the grass.

A haybob is used (below) to scatter the grass out and when the settings are changed it will also fluff it up in a row ready for the baler to pick up

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The baler (above) has a pick up wheel on the front which draws the dried grass into a chamber where it is packed into a bale before being tied with string, knotted and spat out the other end. Round bales can also be wrapped with netwrap rather than string before being spat out.

The small square baler will have a sledge running behind which holds the bales, once full they are released to lie on the field waiting to be stacked. This actual baler has a flat eight sledge behind, it does just that, leaves the bales in a flat eight which are later lifted with a grab and stacked into a 48 before a bale transporter picks it up and transfers them to the hay shed - gone are the days of hand balling every bale and knocking the knees out of your jeans!
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The round baler above has just spat it's bale out. A four foot round bale is roughly equivalant to 8 - 10 small bales. Note the baler has backed back sideways across the field to release the bale, you really don't want to meet one of those bales rolling down the field towards you. People have been killed before now.

The sky is a bit of a give away on the above photo, the grass was intended for hay, preferably small bales, however, the weather was breaking and the big baler came in. It was very close to being hay but deemed not close enough and to save having dusty, foisty big bales of hay it was later wrapped and ought to come out as good quality haylage.

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Hay time can be a stressful time of year. I've never enjoyed it and fortunately get away with out being involved these days, the better half is involved though and the stress, mumping and grumping still comes into the house, at least there is someone to let off steam to.

When the weather is good and settled it can be a joy but eyes are always skywards, weather forecasts are checked regularily, decisions get made and altered. Silage is indeed a saving grace but you still wish to get that good. Days can be long, cutting grass before the sun is well up to give you the main part of the day to deal with grass that is lying, leading in the evenings and wrapping into the dark of night can all be the norm when the weather is dodgy.

Stressful on the mind and body. I often leg pull "what d'y mean you're tired, y've just been sitting on your arse all day!" "How come your neck and shoulders are sore? Is the steering wheel heavy?"(is there any suprise I get mumping and grumping?).

Concentration and focus is needed, no time for day dreaming. Spending alot of the time driving forwards but looking back, checking all is well, catching the breakages as soon as they happen before more damage is done. Ensuring everyone's safety. Watching the weather. Eating on the hoof. Maintaining the machinery. One eye open watching out for the unexpected, the other looking for the expected. It's never ending but eventually it will come to an end, a sigh of relief, a count up of bales, an estimate of what will be required throughout the winter, a bigger sigh of relief if the target has been reached. Slight despondency and a quiet prayer for a kind winter if below target.

Machinery is eventually repaired, greased, oiled and put away until next time. I say eventually, not immeadiately. The reason being your crop may be secure but your neighbours may well be battling on, should they have any major breakdowns your assistance might well be called for and so the machinery can 'loiter' for a while,on stand-by, just in case! No one wants to see their neighbours stuck.

The following link to the woolshed blog is apparently a 'Tarset Special' with the hay rake mentioned now on display at the Bellingham Heritage Centre

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Hay and Silage

Well folks, it is well and truly hammering down outside and so here's the promised blog on hay making. We were all fortunate as there was a window/break in the weather. Week before last saw a fine spell, 3 good winning days and a couple of softer days. What on earth am I talking about I hear you say? Well, a winning day is heat and air. Sunshine which actually has some heat behind it and a nice dry breeze. Ideal conditions for winning hay, although a heavy crop takes more than three days of these conditions to make good hay. Softer weather is exactly that, overcast, weak sunshine and a soft or damper air. Not what a farmer would wish for if trying to make hay but totally acceptable for silage.

Hay - what is it? Well dried out grass basically, nice crispy stuff with no soft green grass in it. Silage? A greener moister version of hay. To confuse you further there is then haylage - a superior version of silage, very close to being hay but just not quite dry enough.

When I first came into the farming business all grass was cut and made into hay, small oblong bales moved by hand. Round balers were getting a hold away in-bye but the hill farms were still muddling along with the traditional small bales of hay. Some farmers were beginning to experiment with big round bales of grass placed inside very big plastic bags which were tied to keep the air out, this stuff got the name of silage and it quickly caught on to the point wrappers were produced enabling these bales to be basically cling wrapped ensuring no air got into the bale and so preserving it over the winter months. A huge step forward for everyone.

Why go to all that bother when traditionally hay was always made? Good question. Hay is dried out grass, nice and crispy - there's your answer. Poor weather in the summer months can have your hay crop ruined in days, a problem faced by farmers for generations not just since the days of 'global warning', 'greenhouse gases' and the threat of 'we are doomed'

Long before the days of highly paid government scientists travelling to our arctic regions and concluding the ice was melting because they were breathing on it our farmers have struggled with inclement weather conditions throughout the summer months. Before hay was baled, in the days when pikes (piles of hay)were the thing, there are tales of hay washing down the North Tyne river due to flooding. You could go back as far as farming history would allow and there will have been seasons when the crop was ruined. Silage has saved the day.

You may have guessed that one thing the farmer really doesn't want is rain once the grass is down, dampness can be accepted, invariably has to be accepted but wet can cause the brow to furrow and grey hairs to sprout.

Years back there was a lot of dusty hay of poor feeding value, having been rained on and more rained on, turned and thrown about the field with tractors to enable to dry out then rained on again. If baled when too damp it would go mouldy and heat in the hay shed. Baled when too green it would also heat and come out in the winter the colour of tobacco, although this was readily acceptable to the livestock, they seemed to love the 'burnt' hay. Mouldy hay was a different matter, animals picking through it to find something they were happy to digest. There was also the problem of self combustion, oh yes, fill a shed full of damp stuff and it'll heat with the possibility of fire. The tobacco bales already mentioned would have been very close to causing a fire in the hay shed. Heating bales also move causing the front of the hay shed to fall out and re stacking being necessary.

Silage has been a god send to farmers, enabling them to pick up their grass before it is ruined by rain. Grass can be cut and picked up with the baler straight away if necessary although most prefer to give it the opportunity to wilt. Once air tight it will be preserved until required for feeding, however, get a hole in the bag/wrap and problems arise, fermentation, sour bales and we're back to the stock picking through it to find something palatable. Too much contamination and the bale is ruined completely - unfit for consumption.

Silage pads are fenced off to ensure no sheep or cattle can nibble at the wrapping, unfortunately vermin such as rabbits and crows can still make a mess of a heap of bales. Sticky patches get applied when holes are noticed in the hope of keeping the air out. Children are NOT allowed to play on the heaps (most probably a health and safety issue in this day and age anyhow), we don't want the kids hurt but we definitely don't want the wrap torn.

There is a down side to silage, especially on hill farms. They are big, heavy and require a tractor to move them. Not ideal when the snow is deep and the sheep out bye are hungry. A small bale of hay can be picked up by hand, slung over the shoulder and carried. In many ways the small bale is irreplaceable, it has it's place the farm and it always pays to try and get some every season - just in case.
Check out the woolshed blog below

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Falstone Show

Falstone Border Shepherds Show is fast approaching. Saturday 22nd is the date and an important one at that.

Farmers and shepherds alike are busy titivating up their sheep ready for the scrutiny of the judges.

Shows are a shop window for the sheep minded fraternity. An opportunity to see what each other has, how tups have crossed, what might be available on the market in the future. Breed lines are discussed, finer points scrutinised, tales told.

Mebbes more important than anything else the shows provide a gathering; an opportunity for like minded people to get together, have a crack, leave the everyday humdrum behind and enjoy themselves.

Farming can be a very insular life, especially the further out bye you get, there are less staff on the farms meaning more work for those left, the weather always takes it toll what ever the season, there isn't always anyone on hand to whinge to or joke with. An excuse for a good day out is always welcomed.

The show isn't just for the sheepy folks though - oh no, it provides an opportunity for everyone to get together and compete it they wish. The women folk will have flour up to their elbows baking away furiously to see if they can produce that perfect scone, cake or what ever. Kids will be trying their best handwriting, baking too (or hoping mam has some leftovers for them), painting pictures and making crafts. Gardeners will be digging the tatties, lifting carrots all with great care and attention to detail. Stick dressers giving that final polish, knitters and sewers wrapping garments carefully in brown paper ready to transport with care to the industrial tent.

The afternoon will be filled with frivolous doings....... rumours of human dog agility are flying around, then there's the children's sports. The sheep dog trial which ought not to be frivolous but depending on the sheep on the day can be a challenge to both dog and handler. The fell race for those energetic sorts, the beer tent for the none energetic sorts. Tombolas,raffles, crafts, home produce and plant stalls, so much to see and do at Falstone Show.

Local or not, town or country, Falstone Show is well worth a visit. Get yourselves there.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Pimms and Parasol

That's what was going through my head as I drove home last night, a manic week has just passed me by - pretty normal by my standards - but today was heading to be a quiet one, if the weather would hold wouldn't it be nice to sit with a Pimms in the shade? The weather has held but there was to be no Pimms and no parasol for Shep today (have to say I'm not really that type but you can always dream!).

The dogs have been flat out, my shearing may have come to an end but sheep needed gathering for other farmers who still had the shearers coming in. I'll introduce you to the dogs someday, they are my right hand, I would be totally lost without them and unable to do the job I do and boy have they worked hard this week.

Tuesday night after gathering, shedding sheep, fetching sheep forward for shearers and being at it all day the mobile rang on the way home - an s.o.s to help a shearer out who's partner had been called away from the shed, always obliging I trotted along, didn't quite manage to round my total up but found myself only requiring another 17 sheep to hit the two and a half thousand mark, I would manage that no bother with the stragglers that'll come in later this month.

Wednesday and the weather picked up A DRY, SUNNY DAY !! ALL DAY !! Great, as dogs and I were helping a farmer who had 470 to be clipped out doors on the hill, not by me I may add, oh no, a couple of lads young enough and fit enough to do the job with their eyes closed and a tremendous job they did with an early finish all considered. The dogs were weary as some of the sheep needed gathering at midday due to lack of room in the pens, the heat was up and dogs were thocking (panting) but they soldiered on as they do.

Thursday dawned bright and cheerful and another hot, dry day followed, dogs and I dipping all day. No, not clipping, DIPPING. Sheep manhandled into a sheep dip where they find themselves immersed in water and get a good bathing. Another subject to discuss at a later date.

It wasn't just the dogs that were weary as we travelled home last night, Shep was too. A splitting headache didn't help and so to cheer myself up I thought of the Pimms and parasol, no need to rise at 6am, with a relaxing day to follow - bliss!!

The 'phone rang last night and a days clipping for today was arranged. And so I've now passed the magical two and a half thousand mark and know it can't be rounded up to the 3,000 as there are no rough sheep left in the area to my knowledge.

Have to say it has been a leisurely day, thoroughly enjoyed myself, in fact could almost class it as a days holiday. The crack flowed, with a break every hour to mop our brows and compare burnt T-shirt lines, no panic to get finished and back home mid afternoon - what more could one ask for on a day off? Beats Pimms and a parasol that's for sure, just a shame the pub was closed as a pint would have gone down well on the way home. Tomorrow? well that's Saturday and a day dipping big fat Texel ewes is the treat in store for me and the dogs, weather permitting.

No one is getting time off at the moment, tractors are fleeing around the countryside as silage and even hay is getting made. The weather is giving everyone a kind spell and they are making the most of it, watch this space and I'll endeavour to keep you informed of the progress on the machinery front.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Hand Shearing

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Bellingham Heritage Centre recently held a 'Woolly Weekend' which included hand shearing demonstrations. A comment heard on the day was "I thought all sheep were shorn by hand" - fair comment.

Indeed all sheep are still shorn by hand, however the majority are shorn by using an electric powered shearing machine with a man/woman controlling not only the sheep but the hand piece as well. Electricity powers the motor then via drive shafts, cogs and spindles the handpiece is powered ready for cutting wool(in fact it will cut anything it comes in contact with, including skin and clothing, I know!). To make the contact with machine and wool you still require a person, the piston consists of human muscle and sinew from the shoulder, elbow and wrist.

To my knowledge there is not an automated machine which takes a woolly sheep in at one end and spits it out bare at the other end. There could be an business opportunity there for an imaginative soul....

Back to hand shearing - the above photo shows what we all call hand shears and they are the traditional if not rather old fashioned tool for shearing sheep. For all I say old fashioned they are still readily available and to be found on every farm and many people are still able to, and do, clip with hand shears, the only difference is they clip a few with the shears not the whole flock.
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The 'good old days' of hand shearing were very sociable events with neighbours travelling around each others farms helping one another out. The heritage centre has a photograph on display of nine men shearing out doors at the sheep pens and women and children on hand to wrap wool. The crack (banter) would flow all day.

I've heard of men managing 100 - 120 a day with the hand shears no bother and tales of barrels of beer shipped in especially for the job, a sheep being killed to feed the hungry souls and baking by the women for days beforehand ensuring no one goes hungry. There was competition with the women folk too, striving to be the one noted for the best 'feed' and competition with the men folk to see who could pick the best clippers out of the pen. Not that different from today in many ways but miles apart in others.

For an insight into shearing years back head for Clive Daltons Woolshed Blog. Copy and paste this link into your browser and enjoy a step back in time. Well worth a read

Monday, 3 August 2009

Grass cutting

Grass cutting. To many a lawnmower would spring to mind, if you're lucky enough to have a lawn. Here in Tarset it is the tractor and mower, time is marching on and those that have not as yet managed to gather their winter fodder are getting a start. The weather has been poor, to say the least, over the past few weeks and farmers have been hoping a better week might be coming as they don't want their valuable winter fodder ruined by rain. However, there comes a time when you just have to bite the bullet. Fields are being dropped in bits. Dyke (wall) backs cut first as they take the most drying and also if the rain comes hopefully the cleared ground might dry enough not to cut up as the machinery runs over it when the middle of the fields are done.
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Silage is planned at the moment, it can be gathered as a greener crop and so take less hurt from the rain, should the weather improve no doubt there will be an attempt to make hay. The grass needs to be dried out to make hay, dry sunny days would be appreciated. We'll wait and see.

Sunday, 2 August 2009


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Nowt to do with sheep at all, just thought I'd share with you this Galloway Cow and calf.

Galloways are traditional hardy hill cattle, hairy characters they are - well suited to living outdoors all year round. you might notice the camera is getting a mean look off this particular beast, I hesitate to add that the zoom is quite powerful and I was on the other side of the fence as she had just calved and I had no intention of going anywhere near her - I'm too young to die!! She was actually quite well behaved all things considered but I would never tempt fate.

I've always had a soft spot for the Galloway, my first two shepherding jobs included a herd of Galloways and I found them slowly creeping into my heart.

Independent type cattle able to withstand most that is thrown at them, noted for being wild but I have found since that many of these continental cross cattle are equally wild if not more so.

The Galloway is a genuine beast, she follows the instincts of a wild animal and is protective of her young, but handled right they aren't really too much bother. Although I did once know one called 'Big Fat Black' (for obvious reasons) and she really was a bit of a madam, to the point of being dangerous when calved, she once managed to clear the yard with folks vaulting gates and walls without touching them - except for me that is, I found myself running circles around a caravan in the yard until she could be distracted ! Unfortunately for her a bad calving left her grounded (even then she would try to attack anyone attempting to get near her, difficult when carrying food and water to her) and so became the end of 'Big Fat Black'

Let's Celebrate!

Just got to tell you all...... Shep has eventually, at long last, finished clipping. Yes, it's official, clipped the last sheep today - Sunday 2nd August - making a total of 2,453. If anyone out there has 47 they need clipping let me know, I do like nice round figures! (Maybe I ought to rephrase that!)

I'm not sure I will be celebrating as still have vivid memories of the serious bout of whisky flu I suffered after my birthday a few weeks back, but don't let me stop anyone else from having fun.