Monday 7 September 2009


What on earth does Spaening mean? Weaning - quite simple really if you know. Apparently in Donegal it is called 'snedding' and who knows what it may be called elsewhere. Here in the Borders we call it spaening. Taking the lambs off their mothers.

Out on the hill replacement ewe lambs need to be kept as the ewes are drafted off the hill at 5 or 6 years old and a fresh age of sheep is needed to take their place. Every year a set amount of keeping (replacement) ewe lambs are chosen off each cut (heft) and returned back to the hill with their mothers.

At this stage they become Ewe Hoggs, no longer ewe lambs, they have matured overnight to become hoggs.

The number of ewe hoggs retained on each cut of the hill depends on the number of ewes which runs out there but is usually around about a fifth of that number, therefore, if you have 100 ewes you'd keep 20 ewe hoggs and hope to draft off 20 old ewes (draft ewes), mind that is wishful thinking, expecting to draft off the number that were originally kept 5 or 6 years ago, think I've told you before - sheep like to die. There's also the bad doers - ones that don't thrive right for what ever reason - they often get drafted out earlier in their lives and sold whilst they're worth a penny or two, rather than waiting for the inevitable and having them die and you having the cost of paying the dead cart to shift them.

Now you might think my mathematics is a tad naff and believe you me it is not a strong point of mine. If you have 100 ewes and sell 20 that leaves 80 (well done Shep), then you add 20 hoggs but a hogg isn't an adult sheep so how do you get back up to 100? Ah ha! Good question.

Last years hoggs got clipped in the early summer (read the hogg clipping article), they then became gimmers - again, maturing overnight (very clever!). A gimmer will go to the tup for the first time this back end, as an adult sheep. Therefore, your 20 clipped hoggs (gimmers) make up the deficit in the ewe count - does that make sense? Sorry if it doesn't but I know what I mean!!

Anyhow, like I said the ewe hoggs get kept, the best of the bunch get chosen to remain on the hill and be the future of the breeding flock. They are set back out to the hill with their mothers who will spaen (wean) her lambs naturally.

The ewe hoggs learn how to live out on the hill and where their rakes on the hill are off their mothers. They are hefted sheep and have learnt over generations where to graze and where they belong. A problem which was encountered after the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak as farms were devoid of livestock and shepherds had to use all their knowledge and hours, days, months, years of hard work to re - heft sheep out on the hill ground, sheep that had been bought in from other farms and knew nothing about where they had come to live and the unseen boundaries they were not meant to cross.

The remaining lamb crop is spaened, some are sold direct off their mothers, others are kept to be fattened or sold at breeding or store sales. The lambs are generally put onto the fogs - yikes! What's a FOG?

A fog (or foggage) is the fresh growth in the hay fields. Once the hay fields have been harvested they are shut down and the fresh grass is allowed to grow to feed the lambs through the back end. Spaening in Tarset is behind schedule as some farmers struggled to get their hay and silage crops (in fact there are still some fields to get) and so the fogs haven't grown and there has been nothing to spaen lambs onto. The traditional time for spaening hill lambs around here was the week between Falstone and Bellingham Show, the last week in August. Here we are into September and there are some spaened and some not, many trying to sell direct off the ewes as hungry mouths can soon strip poor fogs bare.