Saturday, 28 November 2009

small world - Lands End to John O' Groats

Aye! It's a small world alright. A few weeks back Shep was left reeling in shock - on more than one count.

Firstly a 'phone call from Cornwall, now that's away down south somewhere, not far from Lands End seemingly and they have sheep down there! Apparently some neighbours were holidaying in a farm cottage in Cornwall and the farmer mentioned he was looking for someone to lamb for him, name and 'phone number was handed over and a very interesting conversation ensued.

For starters I had never spoken to anyone who was lambing in October, I quickly realised he must have a flock of Dorsets and this was confirmed. I've met one in my lifetime - a white thing with pink skin on its nose and I'm not sure it was really pure or not but they have the ability to lamb 3 times in 2 years which explains why they must have been tupped in May (just as lambing was drawing towards a close in Tarset). Anyhow the main flock was due to lamb towards the end of February (does it not snow down there?) and unfortunately this was not going to fit in with Sheps workload or I could have found myself having a busman's holiday in Cornwall!

The second 'phone call in the same week came from Caithness which is the other end of the spectrum being near to John 0'Groats, now this call was linked to the blog. An enquiry about a photo that had been posted. Shep's cover has been blown, that I find quite unnerving............ seemingly a phone call from an auctioneer away up in the top of Scotland to an auctioneer at Hexham Mart soon revealed the identity and 'phone number of the 'elusive' Shep - there are obviously few 'peculiar individuals' in Tarset with 'the characteristics of a Cheviot' !! What a surprise!!

Both 'phone conversations were very interesting, although talking to complete strangers it is wonderful to be able to feel at ease with like minded individuals, the common denominator of course is farming, sheep and the weather. I received a brief synopsis of the farming practices from either end of the country, fascinating and enough to whet my appetite to head in both directions and see for myself. One thing that all three of us seemed to share equally was the weather, I learnt it doesn't just rain in Tarset !

Monday, 16 November 2009

Ewes a - raid

It's that time of year. Testosterone and progesterone levels are racing in the ovine world.

The ewes are hunting out the tups and the tups are finding ways to get out to the ewes.

The ewes 'come a raid' - they're ready to stand for the tup and hunt him out, heading to the fences, looking to have their sexual desires fulfilled. There is no doubt that scenting comes into this and anyone who has handled a tup near to tup time will know what I mean about them being ripe, they not only purple up in the lisks (groin) but also have a strong smell. The ewes will also emit a scent as you readily see the tups, noses raised and top lip curled up as they scent the air, seeking the scent of the ewe that is ripe.

Tups escape out of the fields they have been put into prior to tup time. These are usually the best fenced areas on the farm and hopefully will hold the boys in, however some can be professional jumpers/creepers and will try to find a way out and will often succeed. Annoying, as it means lambing starts early. A head count is required every morning to ensure the boys are where they're meant to be but even if they have just been missing a few hours they can still cause a fair bit of damage.They may find themselves barred up in a building to ensure they don't get up to mischief.

The following photos show the determination of a ewe to entice a tup to her. She failed and all parties involved seemed highly frustrated

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Coming down off the hill, ewe and tup must have scented each other
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as you can see she has been tailed
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A hugely frustrating scenario, there are now two ewes, all parties are willing, there is muttering from both sides of the fence, tail waggling from the ewes, lip licking from the tup who is frantically clawing at the fence with his front feet and getting extremely agitated - to no avail. A strong pig net fence with barbed wire across the top will save the day, everyone will have to wait until the allotted time especially as these photos were taken in October. The estrus cycle for the ewe is 17 days so they have to be patient until the next time, or in this case the next time again

The earlier lambing flocks have the tups running with them by now. The gestation period for a sheep being 5 months less 5 days, many release their tups on the kinder ground on Guy Fawkes night (5th Nov) to have them come in to lamb on all fools day (1st April). This confuses me as surely that is five months less four days? The hill tups will be going out from the 20th - 25th of the month, everyone has varying dates but basically later in the month will hopefully see a bite more grass when the lambing commences and who knows? mebbes even kinder weather!

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Tups in Tarset

I did say I hoped to be able to let you know what types of tups came into the area this year, so I had a quick whizz round the valley, camera in hand and have come up with the following:

Hexham type Blackfaced tup
Posted by PicasaScotch type Blackfaced tup from Stirling and a South Country Cheviot tup
Posted by PicasaScotch type Blackfaced tup from Lanark
Posted by PicasaSwaledale tups from St John's Chapel, Weardale
Posted by PicasaSouth Country Cheviots from Lockerbie
Posted by PicasaBlue faced Leicester from Hexham
Posted by Picasamillenium blue and texel from Carlisle
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There may be others that I'm not aware of but this gives you a good cross section of tups to be used this year. The horned sheep will all be breeding replacement hill sheep. The cheviots will be used for crossing on the hill ewes to give a better store lamb although some are introducing Cheviot ewes into their flocks

The bluefaced leicester crossed onto a blackface or swaledale sheep produces a breed known as a mule which is the mainstay breed used by lowland sheep producers. Thousands of mule ewe lambs are sold every back end through Hexham mart, they will be crossed with terminal sires such as suffolks or texels to produce prime fat lambs.

The millenium blue (cross between blue de maine and texel) and the texel are crossed onto almost anything to give a good fat lamb, although these two will be used for pure breeding by a farmer with better ground which carries texel ewes.

So there you go - food for thought - because ultimately that is what these boys will be producing - food.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Bellingham Auction Mart - THE LAST MART

Shep has been informed that the book The Last Mart covering the last three sheep sales held at Bellingham Mart which closed in 2004 is no longer available from the author.

Copies can now only be acquired from the publishers website on the following link :

Apparently a unique, one off will be available by auction on 28th November at Tarset Village Hall when a fundraising event will be held to raise funds towards the printing costs of the Tarset News (the local newsletter which is sent free to every household in the parish).

The signed copy of the book available is a hardcover image wrapped version which not only contains double page spread photographs but also a collection of photos taken in the Cheviot after the last sale. It also has the correct date on the cover. A true collectors piece. It is expected sealed bids will be taken details of which may appear on the Tarset website.

The DVD launched at the same time has also been selling like hot cakes with a further print run having been done. It is available at the Bellingham Heritage Centre. Click on the following link for a taster of the DVD

Monday, 2 November 2009

Tailing ewes

Shep has been busy tailing ewes. Tup time is fast approaching and many like their ewes to have been tailed - their bikini lines trimmed - ready for the boys being let loose.

The whole idea of tailing is to give the lads an easier access and also to ensure they have less chance of hurting themselves. Since the ewes were clipped in the summer one or two may well have scoured out a bit, causing muck to gather on the wool on their tails, not nice for the boys to have to circumnavigate lumps of muck in their quest to tup the girls. The gimmers will also have bushier tails than the ewes due to the fact they were clipped earlier. Should we get frost or snow at tup time that can also cling to the long wool on the tail and cause discomfort to the tup.

Hill sheep have long tails but the wool is usually only removed around the area of the back end, although some do like to give a brazilian and bare the tail off completely and crutch at the same time, being old fashioned I don't like the look of this but it is thought to make life easier in the spring when the fresh grass can literally run through the ewes and again cause scouring.

Traditionally hand shears are used, more and more farmers are beginning to use the electric machine which makes the tails bristly and so has to be done well in advance to allow the wool to grow and soften before the tups are let out, no point in trying to make their job easier then making them work through the equivalent of wire wool is there?

Anyhow, that's what I've been busy doing for days, 100's of ewes have been tailed, in fact 1,000's. Day in day out bending over at the back end of a sheep removing wool off tails. Now there are fat tails and thin tails, clean tails and shitty tails, tails that wiggle and tails that don't, tails attached to sheep that jump and cause mayhem and then the ones that stand quiet and co-operate, but at the end of the day tailing ewes must be paramount to working in a factory. One of those mind blowingly monotonous jobs which can either leave you blaspheming or daydreaming.................which leads us on to conkers.

CONKERS? yep, I didn't say bonkers, although that is highly probable. There I was tailing swale ewes (bushy tailed characters who weren't enjoying the attention I was giving them) and I began to marvel at the career I had chosen for myself all those centuries ago, one which seemingly meant I spend an awful lot of my time bent over looking at my feet. I was obviously having one of those off days, a lets feel sorry for Shep day - when something hit me on the head - did it knock any sense in? Well no, of course not! It did however get me onto a different train of thought - Conkers!
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I was working below horse chestnuts and on closer inspection of the ground around me, as that being basically all I could see due to my stance, there were conkers all around. Ah! my childhood..... many a happy hour spent along side my cousins hunting conkers and then duly competing with them (somehow mine never survived very long compared to those of the lads), what fun we had.

My musings continued, kids don't seem to be as conker daft as we were, is this due to computer games and DVD's I wondered? Possibly, but also we now wrap kids in cotton wool, I recall hearing or reading somewhere that there are health and safety issues surrounding conkering, it will be deemed un safe for the kids of this generation to partake in such a sport. If that's the case who on earth is going to tail ewes in the future? Hand shears that could stab or cut yourself and electric shears with which you could electrocute yourself? If we worried about all the probabilities we'd never have any fun. It was at this stage that I concluded the conkers had sent me bonkers as obviously I was considering tailing ewes as fun. Thankfully the task for the day was almost over and there was hope my sanity might return.