Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Christmas is past

Wow, all that fuss and Christmas is now past. It comes around at the same time every year and we are always chasing our tails to 'hit the target'! Then it is all over!!

It's been a funny one this year. Christmas day itself was great but the before and after was all a bit odd. Socialising didn't seem as sociable, due in main to almost every local event on the run up to Christmas being cancelled, poor travelling conditions also threw a spanner in the works preventing visits to friends further a field, just a tad anti-social really for the 'holiday' time, but hey, we all have a year ahead of us to catch up on everyone.

Farmers in Tarset found themselves with more work than usual on Christmas day, it had been -13c (the last hard frost) so water troughs needed defrosting for animals to have water in their sheds. Those living outdoors needed feeding. Those who could had fed as much as possible on Christmas Eve day, which is what Shep did with the sheep I've been feeding, they got a massive heck full of hay to see them through until Boxing Day. However, there is so much stock being fed at the moment due to the snow lying that it wasn't practical to stuff everything full the day previous and so there was more work than there would usually be on Christmas Day itself for the farmers.

Shep headed away for a family Christmas day. It was officially a white Christmas both in Tarset and the rest of our journey, there had been a fall of snow during the day lightening hours, only just mind - a dusting, nothing more but that is all that is needed for it to be official. We actually travelled on two roads which had drifts blown across them, small affairs but a surprise to find none the less. We had a cracking day, thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, had a good laugh, caught up with family and came home exhausted and full - what more could you ask for? It seemed an even greater treat after the challenges of the weather on the run up to Christmas itself, the best Christmas present you could ask for, would sum the day up perfectly!

We had managed to attend the carol service at our local church on the 23rd, an extremely good turn out of folks for a rural church which was only accessible by icy, snowy roads. We were however late, only a mile and a half away and we were late! The other half was called out to assist a farmer to calve a cow and all did not go well apparently. The cow escaped and ended up in a field and took some coaxing back into the warm shed, you would think on a dark, frosty night she would have had the sense to remain where she was but oh no! she had different ideas which resulted in us trying to tiptoe into church whilst the congregation sang 'Silent Night', we may have succeeded better in our quest to be as quiet as church mice if they had been singing 'Hark the Herald Angels', but there you go, can't always have the carol of your choice!

Attending the carol service made me feel so much better, meeting people.......... having a crack....... and hearing such tales of woe........ Shep and the other half have been sick to the back teeth of defrosting our house pipes and yet here were people with burst pipes, no heating, flooded houses, some absentees laid low with what sounded very much like 'flu. Our problems were minor compared to those which had befallen so many others, we definitely had much to be thankful for.

We are rapidly heading towards the new year. The thaw has set in, damp weather is causing snow to melt, before long farmers will be complaining about the clarts (mud/mess), lets hope the burns and rivers can take this melt water and we don't end up with some flooding in lower lying areas. What will be will be, we can prepare for it but we can't stop it, we'll just have to be patient and see how things turn out.

Thursday, 23 December 2010


It's been quite cold, really quite cold. My ears tell me most mornings what the temperature beyond the comfort of my bed is likely to be, they then find me pulling the bed covers tighter over my head whilst I pluck up the courage to dive out of bed and get dressed. This can take quite a while some mornings, especially the ones where my ears are so cold I wonder if they might snap off!

-7.-10.-11.-13.-17.-11. These are the temperatures recorded at Shep's back door over the last 6 days. There was huge excitement the morning it was -13, we were both ecstatic and felt triumphant - the water was running!!! We have almost lost count of the number of days our house pipes have been frozen, hit double figures and frozen they would be. When the fresher days arrived Shep brought the used black plastic silage wrap up from the farm and attempted to wrap the house in the stuff but to no avail. There was then a lot more fetched up, we now sport a mini mountain of black plastic stacked up below the kitchen window AND it stopped the house pipes from freezing at -13 - yipee!!! Unfortunately -17 was too much for even the silage wrap and once again many hours were spent getting the water running in the house. But at least we know we are safe down to -13, a huge bonus.
Posted by Picasa
I was fascinated by this icicle I saw the other day, hanging off an old railway bridge which I wasn't able to get a very good angle of but it truly is a work of art. Our residence doesn't have any icicles yet, it obviously hasn't been warm enough to make anything drip. The last few days it has never got above freezing during the day and one day was still -8 at lunch time and -10 upon darkening (4.30pm). There has been some sunshine during the days but often clouding over with the odd flurry of snow for good measure.
Posted by Picasa
Posted by Picasa
The above photos are of the same location. The first taken on 25th November, the second taken on the shortest day 21st Dec. Don't think Moss and Kale had considered walking on water before!!
Posted by Picasa
The closer shot shows just how frozen the Linn (waterfall)has become, one of the linns that the fish were running up earlier in November, suppose they'll be able to slide back to sea quite easily now!

It is good healthy weather but the severity of the frosts are causing problems with any housed animals, with water bowls and troughs freezing daily and some not able to be defrosted. Roads too are pretty dodgy, even main roads served by gritters are dangerous with unseen black ice. The snow coverings we keep receiving hide the icy patches making life difficult on foot too.

The weather has caused some to cancel their Christmas trips home, it has caused us to stop my 'mother-in-law' from joining us on Christmas Eve, the house is far too cold for an elderly person (especially one used to central heating) to come and stop with us, it is icy outside so dangerous under foot too but hopefully we'll catch up with her on Christmas morning.

The postman was telling me a few days back that 19 posties were off with broken limbs......... a man delivering heating oil was telling me one of their drivers broke his leg on the ice whilst making a delivery......... a neighbour has gone down and broken her ankle........Whatever you are doing in this weather, take care, take your time and try to remain in one piece.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Tup time and second time over

The tups in Tarset are now into second time over. As explained last year ewes have an oestrus cycle of 17 days. So a tup is released to the ewes on the first day of tup time and it is hoped that after 17 days those ewes will have all come on 'heat' and been tupped and hopefully held (remained fertilised).

The next 17 days is generally known as second time over. For fear some ewes didn't hold to the tup they get the chance again and usually to a different tup.

It is not unheard of for ewes to come back to the tup on the 18th/19th days, these being the ewes which were on heat when the tups first went out and for some of them it was probably wearing off, or maybe the tup was struggling to settle down to the task in hand. For whatever the reason there is no major concerns when ewes come a tupping right at the offset of second time over, however, should this trend continue for further days it is a great concern, a sign that the tup was not doing his job right, was not fertilising the ewes.

It is for this reason that tups are changed for second time over, ideally fresh tups are used but sometimes tups just find themselves changed around to run with a different batch of ewes. Shepherds keep an eye on any proceedings hoping that they don't find ewes queuing up for their second chance of being fertilised. If the tups are ratching (hunting) around looking for a willing female and finding no joy then that is great news for the shepherd, the ewes are already fertilised and don't require the services of the male sheep anymore. Should the results be different and the tup finds himself with a regular harem then there is no doubt the first tup out with the ewes did not do his job, hugely frustrating as the lambing season will drag on and the tup (which may well be one you thought very highly of) will have to go down the road, to the pie shop so to speak.

There were many this tup time sharing concerns that their ewes would be not be tupped first time over due to the poor weather conditions. There should have been little reason why the sheep didn't get tupped, if your ewes are fit and your tups too then nature will take its course. Sheep have an inbuilt desire to pass their genes on to the next generation and so long as their own survival is not in jeopardy that is what they will do.

It is possible that on some of the very worst days when snow was blizzarding the tups may have found it more difficult to perform, or they may well have suffered an injury (which would be spotted by the shepherd and rectified as soon as possible) but on a whole the males and females ought to have been doing what they were meant to be doing and fertilisation ought to have occurred.

Shepherds were finding that they weren't seeing the signs first time over. Usually the sheep are fairly well spread out and the tup will be wandering around trying to find a receptive ewe, the ewes also will be hunting the tups out. The shepherd would gather his sheep up every day and hopefully have the opportunity of seeing a tup work (tup a ewe). However due to the amount of snow lying sheep were held tight within a small area until the snow began to soften and they could spread themselves out further and when the shepherd arrived on the scene these sheep which were already bunched up came forward looking for feed, a totally different scenario to the one which many were used to experiencing.

Due to the fact that the sheep were bunched up all the time the tups didn't (and actually couldn't) go a wandering, they were confined to a small area just waiting for a ewe to come onto heat and ask to be tupped, the chances of the shepherd seeing any 'action' was fairly slim. As already said, upon his arrival the sheep were looking for feed so again he wasn't going to see much action. If ewes are not satisfied with the tup and his services they will follow him around, hassle him and let it be known that they would like something 'better', again this wasn't being seen due to the circumstances at tup time.

Tups have been changed in Tarset and second time over is well underway. It would appear that those concerns held by some could well have been unfounded, there are not many ewes coming back to the tups which is great news. It seems that the ewe flocks in Tarset are indeed going to be in lamb.
Posted by Picasa
An idle tup seen above - good news for the shepherds that the ewes no longer require his services.

Tups will run with the ewes until the turn of the year, often pulled off the ewes around about the 5th January. Tups are pulled off the ewes because we all want to know that lambing time is drawing to a close, if they are left running with the ewes there may well be ewes lambing well into June. Six weeks of running with the tups ought to be enough, it's definitely enough at lambing time! Anything which hasn't been tupped in that time probably wasn't fit enough or had an underlying problem and would be better off geld anyhow, unless that is there was a problem with the tup and his fertility in which case tups may be left out longer as the lambing will be starting later anyhow.

The challenge to the ewes now is to get through the winter and remain in lamb. Physical stress may well cause them to reabsorb their lambs or abort (keb). Physical stress is often caused by difficult weather conditions which affect their natural grazing and find them burning their energy reserves. Fortunately sheep went into this winter in good physical fettle and we'll just have to hope they don't find themselves hammered by the elements and put under stress once the foetus begins to grow inside them.

Friday, 17 December 2010

An update on the weather

Friday 10th December saw the weather turn fresh (warmer), there were even concerns of flooding as the roads quite literally ran with water. However many of the roads were still covered with compacted frozen snow which made driving conditions absolutely treacherous.

Farmers contracted out by the council tried to make the most of the fresh spell which was forecast to continue right over the weekend. Diggers and ploughs came into the area to try and remove some of the inches deep compacted frozen snow off the tarmac roads. Many wagons needed to make deliveries, not only to farms but also to households who required heating oils, coals etc, the roads were going to have to blacken more than they were at the moment to enable the deliveries to get in.

There was some headway made and tarmac did rise to the surface in places, however the fresh didn't last as long as it might have done. For all it felt so much milder the cold in the ground must have prevented further snow and ice from shifting. There was a massive difference to be seen on the Friday, every time I looked up more snow had moved and yet on the Saturday it appeared to be just the same and so on for the first few days of the coming week.

Yes, the snow must have been moving slightly but it was no where near as apparent as it was on that Friday. Where ever tractors, feet or traffic had been travelling over the white stuff it was all left as a solid frozen mass. Fields were greening up, hill ground and any rougher pastures found sheep scratching in and 'working' to get a bite as heather and rushes began to poke through, any dips and hollows remained white as did dyke (wall) backs. The oldies would be telling you it was hanging around waiting for more to come........

Shep managed to get out and about without fear of sliding off roads, a trip away East to dose and innoculate hoggs away on winter keep followed by a trip over West to dose and copper in lamb mule ewes, on roads which were a pleasure to drive on. What a difference in the weather though. Close to the seaside on my venture east saw a lot of snow still lying, as much if not more than ourselves. The trip over west saw me enquiring whether or not they had had any snow. But then you just have to travel a few miles down the valley from here and the snow is hard to find.

Sunday 12th December saw everyone waiting with bated breath to view the weekly television weather forecast which is screened after our weekly farming programme on a Sunday evening. Concerns grew as a threat of heavy snowfall was predicted for the coming Thursday (yesterday).

The 'fresh' had come as a god send enabling everyone to 'come up for air', restock where necessary and prepare for whatever the weather was likely to throw at us. Not just farmers and shepherds I may add, householders too. Those who required fuel deliveries to heat their houses were finding the wagons were back on the roads, some had to leave bowsers to be filled at properties which had clearer roads, these bowsers being led in by tractor so saving unnecessary accidents for the wagon drivers or none deliveries. Feedstuffs were delivered to farms, some being unloaded at the farm ends, or neighbouring farms due to wagons not able to travel on the icy farm roads. Groceries were sought, just in case! Pantries (larders) are kept full through the winter months so many were not short of food but it always pays to ensure there is plenty in and so an opportunity to restock is not missed.

A great help when no one is sure what the future weather is likely to be.

Shep even met one farmer loading his sheep and taking them home. His main farm is 12 miles away, further in bye,yet he owns a large lump of hill ground in this area too. For all he was able to get fodder to his sheep in the bad weather he said it was taking 3 hours out of his day to travel to them by tractor and so when there was a lull in the weather he decided to gather all 100 of them up and transport them by livestock trailer back down to his home farm where he knew he would be able to access them. Not a foolish move by any means.

For some the forecast of more heavy snow was almost too much, worries and fears came to the fore. Will the fodder last the winter? Where will we find some more fodder? Will the wagon get in with feedstuffs for the farm animals? Will the sheep carry their lambs through? Will there be enough money to pay the extra costs? Will we ever be able to visit friends and family before Christmas? Will the family get up for Christmas?

There is nothing we can do about the weather and in many ways there is no point in worrying, however, if you care then you will undoubtedly worry and for all there is nothing can be done about the weather we must all prepare for it and have plans and back up plans for dealing with it. Minds are racing, thinking weeks and even months ahead towards possible scenarios, trying to conjure up plans of action to help alleviate the situations should they arise. For instance, there is no point in waiting until you have no hay for your sheep before ringing around to see it there is any to be had. The hay sheds were rapidly depleting and many have already being making enquiries and placing orders for more fodder. Should it not be needed then all well and good, a huge expense but at least it was on hand. However, should it be needed then that is even better, your animals did not go hungry, you had the foresight of mind to plan ahead and prepare for the worst.

So why so much concern? Why the unspoken fear, concern and trepidation? THE WINTER ARRIVED TOO EARLY - that's why. Winter will often arrive in January, very often in February and not unheard of in March, but November? Snow is not unheard of in November, neither is frost. However the amount we received is unusual and we are a long way away from springtime, so much can happen in the forthcoming months.

Last winter dragged on, a good old fashioned winter which commenced in December and trailed on beyond the spring. Almost everyone in this area used up all their hay and silage, their feed bills were much higher than usual and not a scrap of feed left on the farms. The past spring and summer were poor ones. The early growing season never arrived and hay and silage crops were poor. Many farmers went into the winter with sufficient to see them through on a 'normal' winter, therefore they already know that they do not have enough fodder to see them through an unusually early winter unless it should now become fresh and the weather warm up. Many are carrying huge concerns upon their shoulders.

You can imagine the relief as the week drew on and the threat of heavy snowfall lessened to a threat of snow showers, many were waiting with bated breath to see what would arrive.

Thursday saw a covering of snow and nothing more, enough to make the ground look more uniform but not enough to cause any concern. The arctic blast saw the snow and slush practically freeze as it fell. Roads are once again lethal due to black ice and white ice!

We are in for a spell of hard weather, forecast for the coming week at least. Hard frosty weather. Hopefully everyone will be able to go about their business with care. Water pipes will probably be freezing again in cattle sheds and outbuildings - a time consuming pastime which can seem never ending trying to get the water to run for stock to drink. There is rough ground showing so hopefully sheep on hill ground wont need as much hay as they were receiving when the snow was so deep, however, they will still need a bite. The costs and use of fodder hasn't come to an end yet but in some respects life is looking up a little.

Friday, 10 December 2010

A spell of hard weather but NO snow! ( 4 - 8/12/10)

Posted by Picasa
There has been no more snow fall in Tarset. In fact on Saturday 4th December we had a fresher (milder) day, icicles dripped and snow flattened. The snow really did soften and the depth of it almost shrunk before your eyes. Frost kicked in again for the following four days, two nights registered -9 and the other two were -14 and -15.
Posted by Picasa
Yes the house pipes froze on the nights which hit double figures but they were defrosted successfully after a few hours. Farm buildings are suffering similar problems, with water troughs having to be defrosted daily to ensure any housed animals have access to water, it is a time consuming occupation often best left until mid morning when it is hoped the air temperature is rising, some will wait until afternoon in the hope it will naturally come away with the body heat of the animals and the warmer air, however on days when the temperature doesn't rise above freezing it is a waste of time waiting until afternoon as the temperature soon starts to plummet again.
Posted by Picasa
The hoar frosts have been amazing, these ice crystals which appeared to look like leaves were encrusted over the top of a wooden gate, quite exquisite and very fragile. You can be forgiven for imagining snow is flightering on as the icy crystals find themselves losing their fragile hold on tree branches, slowly and gracefully falling to the ground to be lost in the whiteness which covers everything.
Posted by Picasa
Even the snow covered ground glistens with frozen ice crystals.
Posted by Picasa
Farmers and shepherds are getting no where fast, other than getting their stock fed and defrosting frozen pipes they seem to achieve very little before darkness falls, the days are short and we have yet to reach the shortest day of the year.
Posted by Picasa
The snow lies all around, at least everyone is in the same boat. Some ground has more snow cover than others, the higher ground in Tarset has the deepest snow. Where Shep lives the road is now black, thanks in main to being near to the local school and also lower lying ground. Council workers have been flat out with ploughs and gritters trying to keep routes open.

A few days milder weather has been forecast and those farmers contracted out by the local council are flat out trying to clear some of the out bye roads. These roads were eventually ploughed but with the increasing frosty weather they were becoming increasingly dangerous and many haven't been passable with a normal car anyhow. There are farmers spreading grit and salt on behalf of the council on the roads deemed unsafe for a council gritting wagon, others are out with diggers trying to cut through the hardened, compacted snow and reach the tarmac below. The mild weather will be a huge asset to them in their quest and no time is being lost to try and get our roads opened out again, to allow normal traffic and get wagons with feed stuffs, heating oils etc out to residents.
Posted by Picasa
Will this be the last photo of hoar frost this winter? Highly unlikely. A mild spell over the weekend will see snow soften further, hopefully some ground may even show it's face but those awful weather forecasters seem to think the frost will return. A respite from it will be gratefully received by many, water pipes will be running, machinery might not be breaking and should the frost return it will save any flooding which would probably happen with a quick thaw.
Posted by Picasa

In the mean time I will leave you with a view from out bye, the snow is softening slower away out there but it is going down, the depth is decreasing. The tracked argo cat eventually arrived, days later than promised but gratefully received all the same, life might be easier and safer for the shepherd out there now that he has a machine which ought to travel in the snow.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Injuries to tups

The saying goes that your tup (male entire sheep) is half the flock. How can one sheep be half your flock? Well, that one sheep is the sire of the next generation. He is as important if not more so than the females, especially when pure breeding.

That explains why shepherds and farmers alike go to such pains when choosing a tup, picking a beast which they deem will pass on the attributes they require for their flock. A good tup can set you back a fair bit of money, especially if others have their eyes on the same beast. Having said that you can also pick up a good tup for little money, it all depends on the luck of the draw.

Once you've acquired your tup your intention is to look after him and all the other tups too. They can fight, just like the wildlife programmes on the television there is always a male who wants to be dominant. When acquiring new tups it always pays to fetch your older tups in and pen all the tups up tight together so that they cannot move too much and damage one another. They are usually barred up tight like this for a good few hours, until the scent has passed over all of them and the new tups hopefully end up smelling similar to those which are already used to one another.

Unfortunately even tups which have lived together since last tup time can begin to push their weight around prior to tup time, they know it's the season and there is usually a bolshy chap who thinks he's the dominant one, if the others are wise they will be submissive. If not a humdinger of a fight can commence. Hill tups have horns, all tups have very hard heads and strong necks.

The tups use their heads to attack, commencing with pushing the others around a bit but should one of them decide to stand their ground against the domineering fella they will end up head butting one another, running backwards whilst facing their opposition they will then charge, resulting in a head on collision. It is not wise to stand between them, they are set on their purpose and won't stop because you're in the way, your best option is to attempt to distract them whilst keeping safely out of the contact zone..
Posted by Picasa

One tup will eventually back down but he may well be hurt in the process. It is not unheard of to have a tup 'set his neck' (break his neck), or end up appearing to have some sort of brain damage. The dominant tup may also ram the opposition up the backside or in the side of his body which can result in stifles or broken backs. Not an everyday scenario but it does happen. Tups can appear to be content in one an others company and the next time you see them they can either be fighting or one may appear injured. More often than not there is a little bit or argy bargy which comes to nothing. The above texel tup was dazed but fortunately there was no long term damage.

Once out to the ewes there is a less likely chance of fighting. Even two tups put out together will work their way through the ewes rather than fight, however, there is still a chance of a fight if there aren't plenty of ewes or if one tup is determined to steal off the other, but generally the dominant tup will get his way whilst the other heads off to find another ewe.

So if one tup is put to ewes nothing can really go wrong? If only.

Lameness is an issue, especially on a back foot/leg. Tups mount the ewes and so need to be sound on their back legs. They may go lame due to injury such as twisting a hip or leg or they may go lame with foot rot or scald. The latter can be dealt with quickly as soon as it is seen and hopefully prevent it getting worse or maybe even cure it but an injury to the leg is a bad look out and the tup will have to be changed for one which is sound.

The tups manhood may also get damaged. One reason why ewes get tailed (the wool taken off their tails)is to prevent injury to the tups penis, known generally as his peezel or pizel. The peezel is tucked away inside the tups body and only shows face when he is aroused. A sensitive and tender part of his anatomy.

Should his peezel be unfortunate enough to have to fight through hard bits of dried muck or frosty wool it may well get damaged. The first sign for the shepherd is traces of blood on the ewes tail/back end, these can be quite faint and not always obviously apparent. A fair bit of blood on the tail is not a good sign.

This is the problem that arose out bye the other day, a tup had bled himself and he won't be the only one this winter. The driving, blowing snow has been lying on the sheep's backs, they are well insulated and it doesn't melt that quickly, should a frosty night follow the wool finds it has frozen snow encrusted on it. To the tup and his privates this must be like pushing through razor blades and so causes damage.
Posted by Picasa
Although difficult to tell on the above photo if you look closely you'll notice that the sheep have a covering of frozen snow on their backs and tails. Even though they have been tailed there is still wool for the snow to adhere to and this is where the problem arises.

Should a tup bleed himself he has to be replaced and removed from the ewes, an investigation of his peezel will show how much damage has been done and generally given rest from sexual activity he will heel up and be ready to resume his duties. I have in the past rested a tup for a few days and he has gone back to the ewes and been no further trouble. However on a year such as this it would be unwise to return him to his duties as the cause of the problem is still there and you wouldn't want to risk damaging him beyond repair.

Another issue, which I have to admit I have never come across but have heard of it in both tups and bulls is to snap their peezel. There is only one route for the tup should this happen as he will never breed again.

So, the poor old sheep are battling with the weather and it has more hidden dangers than the obvious. Pretty lousy weather for tup time with dangerous consequences for the poor old tups. Nowts ever as simple as it seems! Observation is of paramount importance, even whilst battling with the weather.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

A Cheviot fix. South Country Cheviots

I have had this posting saved as a draft for ages and never got around to publishing it, there is nothing quite like a cheviot to cheer one up and so a change from snow I'll share with you all my Cheviot fix which I had in early November when the world was green, not white.

Shep was honoured to receive an invite to view a 'special' flock of ewes just over the border into Scotland. Cheviots of course (what else?)not only Cheviots but ewes which are kept out of view of the general public, they don't run down to the roadside so a sneaky preview as you're driving past is not possible, no an invitation is the only way to manage to survey this flock. A private viewing is what I was honoured enough to be given and much was learnt on the day about the Cheviot and her attributes.

The shepherd who gave me his time was probably pleased to see the back of me by the time I left as I was like a knowledge thirsty youngster, question after question as to the how fors and what fors of the breed. His drawing of ewes to the tup would probably have taken just an hour or two had he not had me holding him back, querying this and asking that, meant it turned into a full days job. With head spinning the shepherd probably crashed out exhausted in the evening, whereas my head was still spinning as I had so much to digest. I'd had a great day! Time will tell whether or not I'll get an invite back to view the lambs!!

I was desperate to get my head around the difference between the east and west borders type of cheviot. It seems hard to believe there can be so much variation within a breed, however, it is the case with most breeds with the blackfaced breed being a prime example. There is the Northumberland type and the Scotch type blackfaced sheep, two profoundly different types of sheep within a breed. Then once within the Scotch type there are more variations, the Perth type, Stirling type, Lanark type etc., why ought the cheviot be any different?

I think, slowly but surely, I am learning the variation in the cheviots, although there is now a mix of the two blood types to add further confusion.

I have been told that originally there were two sale venues. Lockerbie was the home of the West Borders Cheviot with Hawick the venue for the East Borders Cheviot. Unfortunately the two types finally amalgamated and found themselves all heading to the Lockerbie sales.

By all accounts the East Borders were generally a polled breed. By polled I am referring to the tups (rams, entire males) as the females do not carry horns anyhow, regardless of which type they originate from. So if the East Borders were polled we can safely surmise the West Borders carried horns - correct.

The Cheviot which I would have drawn to mind years back was a shorter coupled creature almost of a dumpy disposition, this would have been the traditional East Borders type seemingly, the West Borders carrying more scope (size). Also the East Borders was renowned for a tighter skin compared to the West with a shaggier, more open coat. Phew! So much to take in!!!

Years ago, a problem arose within the East Borders type, it was known as footless. Seemingly the gene pool was not that big for the East Borders breeders and somewhere along the line a gene appeared which had lambs being born without feet. The tup which originally produced this faulty gene had rather unfortunately been given the name of 'tiptoe' when he was registered with the breed society. Rather ironical to say the least.

It would appear from what I have been told that due to the footless problem there were a number of bloodlines no longer suitable to be used and some inferior blood was used to prevent the spread of the footless problem. Eventually the East Borders men had to look elsewhere in an effort to dilute some of this inferior blood which saw them looking towards the West Borders type.

Sales of tups were beginning to dwindle at Hawick with the result the East Borders men began to head over west to Lockerbie to sell their tups, through the natural course of things the bloodlines amalgamated.

Posted by Picasa
The above photo is of some tups which came into the valley last year from Lockerbie tup sale, the far right are probably showing more to the west type than those on the left, however all seem to possess a good tight skin. Oh! the funny thing in the middle is a blackie, not yet another variation to the cheviot!!

The South Country Cheviot today is most likely to be an amalgamation of both types.

One noted Cheviot breeder told me quite recently that the East Borders type was extinct, I don't wish to get into an argument over a breed I am still learning about but I do know there are still those who are trying to retain the East Borders type. Regardless of type, I can't help but feel the South Country Cheviot sheep is a greatly improved beast from those which I recollect from my early shepherding days. Indeed when speaking to those who breed the creatures they have definitely taken a turn for the better, there has been an intentional improvement in the breed making her slightly bigger and less likely to hang her lambs

Posted by Picasa

I found myself being drawn in by the Cheviot from first lambing her a few years back (by default I may add as horror stories I had been brought up with of tails whizzing round like propellers as she disappeared ovcr the far horizon with a hung lamb sticking out of her backside had convinced me I never wanted to have anything to do with the beasts). They are no where near as small as I had expected, in fact they are of a decent size and solid with it. They have short erect ears and a very bright eye which seems more pronounced than that of eyes in other breeds. She has an ability to catch your eye without a doubt, but be warned, once she has caught your eye she then creeps into your heart!!
Posted by Picasa

A tough, feisty individual with a determination second to none accompanied by a fierce independence. She doesn't suffer fools gladly and has a strong dislike of human intervention but for all those attributes I have to say they are totally genuine, what you see is what you get, coupled with a outstanding kindness at lambing time. I just can't help but admire the South Country Cheviot.

My Cheviot fix left me on a high for a while, digesting all I had learnt. Imagine my pleasure when I found myself invited to travel with a neighbour into Scotland to have yet another Cheviot fix. Twice in a fortnight was almost too much!!! A neighbouring farm to the one which I lamb at was the destination and an enjoyable few hours were spent viewing and discussing the white woolly blighters with the result that some came home with us into the North Tyne - SO EXCITING!! The better half tells me I need to get a life! humph, he gets enthused about tractors and diggers so why can't I get excited about Cheviots?

So? What type of Cheviot where they? quite simply a South Country Cheviot, an amalgamation of the types which used to divide the borders. They are white, woolly and cute! What more could you ask for?

Monday, 6 December 2010

Friday......... it tried to snow! An improvement!! (3/12/10)

Friday morning was not a good one. My ears felt like they were dropping off with the cold and I was still in bed! A fingernail through the ice on the inside of the bedroom window spoke volumes. Brrr.....

The morning got worse, cold tap in the bathroom didn't seem to want any water to come out of it, same with the kitchen tap - frozen pipes. Great!!

The back door did not want to open, it was frozen shut. By now my sleepy haze was rapidly turning into a blue haze.........

I'm sure it must have been a pretty morning, I just couldn't see it through the haze which was piling upon me. My fingers fleetingly stuck to the metal bolt on Mosses kennel door, I really should know better, especially as seconds later the same thing happened on the metal catch of the garden wicket (gate).

The padlocks were frozen solid when I reached the shed the bike is housed in, a flask of hot water was required. On returning to the back door I checked the outside thermometor, -16, guess that might explain things.

I was cursing the freezing fog which was just beginning to lift, the hoar frost was unbelievale, inch long shards of ice adhering to everything in sight. As already said I'm sure if I'd just stood still and taken five I may have revelled in the magic and beauty of it all, however, I didn't, I just muttered and felt the discomfort of the frozen moisture in my nostrils.

By the time all the defrosting had been dealt with (the other half was left in charge of the water in the house) I felt I was running late and skipped feeding the sheep down the valley. Wrapped a scarf I didn't know I had round my face and sped off to head away out bye.

I didn't actually speed at all, it was too cold and I really didn't want to make it feel any colder by travelling at a rate of knots on the quad, also, for all they are four wheel drive they will still skid, slip and career out of control, it was far too cold to slide off the road and end up in a heap somewhere.

So where are the pretty photos? Couldn't be bothered with the camera, chances are the batteries wouldn't have worked in the cold anyhow, but I had plenty on my hands without trundling off with the camera too.

Half way to my destination I stopped, hopped off the bike and did some warm up excercises, jumping up and down, flapping my arms around, running on the spot, then running up the road, back down past the bike and back to the bike again. My feet and hands were so cold and I think all I really managed to do was end up out of breath but still cold. It was as I was driving away I noticed a neighbour across his field haying sheep. There'll probably be some crack (conversation) down the pub that I'd lost my marbles and was spotted careering around like a lunatic. Probably won't be the first time such things have been said about me and won't be the last either!!

I was thankful of the cuppa when I arrived at my destination. My feet and hands still felt like lumps of ice, my scarf was iced up too. I was told upon my arrival that I wouldn't win a prize in a glamour competition - what a surprise!

The day didn't pan out as we would have wished, an injured tup needed rescuing and something else put out to replace him. The sort of problem you can get in a normal tup time, catch the tup, stick him in the bike trailer and come back with another one. Sounds simple but not when the snow lies all around and too deep for a bike. It took 'til lunch time to resolve the problem.

The tractor and plough had to be used to plough a route across country for the bike and trailer to travel on, then........ the sheep had to be tracked out to reach the spot the bike was at, then..... the tup had to be caught and manhandled to the bike and the others released. Then........ the bike and trailer were stuck and had to be towed through the already ploughed snow to get onto the road. Such fun!!

There is no doubt about it that the simplest of tasks take so much more doing when you can't travel anywhere, when you have to drag your feet and legs through deep snow, when things freeze. The days are short enough as it is without everything taking many times longer to do.

The good news of the day was that it flightered on with snow, nothing else, just enough to give a dusting of the white stuff - wonderful! Worth all the other hardships just to have a quieter day weather wise.

Shep returned down the valley sooner than other days, in daylight this time, with the intention of feeding the sheep down the valley. Calling in at home first to warm up only to find a message on the 'phone from the elderly sheep keeper, sounding quite irrate and informing me that I hadn't been to hay her sheep and the snow was too deep for her to do it......... The other half must have noticed the steam which was starting to escape out of my ears as I donned my hat and he beat me to it onto the quad and away to hay the sheep. Probably the safest solution at the time!

The other good news of the day? Our water came away just prior to my return, 4pm I am told was the magical hour when water started to run through the taps. A huge relief as the only heating we have in the house is an open fire with the back boiler, which would not have been wise to light if the water was still frozen.

We do however have a very small open fire in the bedroom and could have sat over that roasting chestnuts I guess. Fortunately it didn't come to that - just as well coz we don't have any chestnuts!

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Thursday and.......... it snowed! (2/12/10)

Posted by Picasa
After heading down the valley this morning to feed two lots of sheep Shep turned around, collected Moss and Kale and headed up the valley, following a gritter for a short while then meeting a tractor and plough further on before meeting the out bye shepherd who once again was cutting his road out to give me and the quad access to help him.
Posted by Picasa
During the journey I passed these cattle enjoying the silage at a ring feeder, they seemed to be taking less hurt than I felt I was but then they are bred for hard weather.
Posted by Picasa
The snow is now deeper than it was last year, there is a fence somewhere in this photo. As for the snow being 22 inches deep (the length of the shepherds leg to the knee) I don't know how deep it is now, he seemed shy to let me take his inside leg measurement! Definitely too much of it is bum height to me!!
Posted by Picasa
I hayed some sheep at the home farm before heading further out, the shepherd had set away in front with the tractor and plough to cut the road out, a daily task and very time consuming
Posted by Picasa
Moss ran away ahead of the bike, Kale had been left secure at the farm, he actually just went with me for excersice on the way there. A young, keen untrained dog is not the thing you want to be bothered by on days like this. Glen had been left at home, these days can be hard on a dog and are not the sort of days to put a ten year old fella through.
Posted by Picasa
I eventually caught up with the plough which was heading back towards me, the shepherd thought I was getting stuck with the bike on the roughly ploughed road because I kept stopping, I didn't dare admit I'd been taking pretty pictures!! The plough is fitted on the back of the tractor which means the tractor has to go backwards when ploughing, which means the shepherd gets a crick in his neck. Not the easiest of jobs.
Posted by Picasa
First port of call was to access the sheep we had walked away in a couple of days ago. The tractor had knocked the fence down into a planting that day. On purpose I may add. We had taken them to a spot where there was little shelter from the north or east but it was accessible with the tractor. For that reason the fence had been knocked down so the sheep could access shelter in the trees if nothing else. There was quite a mob of them in there, wild creatures, they weren't keen on showing their faces and who could blame them after the hassle they were put through the other day. They did start coming out to the bent hay as we were leaving.

A hair raising journey out to some others with the tractor sliding and almost sticking on a number of occasions had us find sheep which once again needed walking out and bunching together. Shep had got sick of carrying a bulky camera and cursed all the time as the weather was bright, the view outstanding and the photos would have been great - but there you go, it's hard enough walking through this snowy stuff without being hampered with a camera!
Posted by Picasa
Our final port of call was to seek out the Monkside ewes, not seen since Monday but all held together in an inaccessible place for a bale, we would just roll the bale to them. Not the easiest as this again was a bale of bent hay (hill grasses baled up) and not a good one at that so it was quite well stuck together.
Posted by Picasa
As you can see I left all the hard work to the shepherd!
Posted by Picasa
Eventually they too had their fodder, hopefully they might pull themselves out of the hole they are in, even more fortunately we had a 'carpet' to walk back on as the depth of snow was ridiculous and I really didn't want to look like a floundering girlie trying to drag my carcase up hill out of deep snow. The sheep will flatten it down as they eat the fodder laid out for them, or that is what we hope!

Heading for home just on darkening it decided to snow again, I was lucky and got in behind a tractor further down the valley, I tucked in tight in the hope of getting some shelter off it as we travelled along and arrived home rather chilled but with cheeks glowing.

Tomorrow is another day, back out bye to get to yet more sheep, it is never ending as feeding them all on one day is not possible at the moment, there are still some we have not accessed but have seen from a distance and they are in no immeadiate danger.

Hopefully an argo cat fitted with tracks may be arriving in a day or two, the snow is getting too deep for a tractor and it is also getting dangerous for the tractor to travel, the shepherd out bye is a lone shepherd and needs something to make life not only easier but also safer.

On that note I had a phone call this evening from the farmer in the Rede. He is the farmer who got tracks for his quad bike last year and says it is the best £3,500 he has ever spent, to date there is absolutely nothing has stopped this bike fitted with tracks. The snow out there will be as deep as it is out bye and some of the ground as steep and apparently this contraption will travel anywhere.
Posted by Picasa
The photo which was taken at the end of January of the tracked bike. A god send in deep snow. I will try and encourage the shepherd out bye to look into getting these, unfortunately it will be up to his employers at the end of the day but it would surely make his job easier and safer.