Sunday, 31 January 2010

Goodbye to January

Here we are, the end of January and things are looking up, or so we would hope, it always pays to remain optimistic, you'd get depressed otherwise.

You could be forgiven for thinking the snow has eventually gone, unfortunately it is still managing to linger on the highest ground in Tarset and further a field. Cheviot can be seen from many areas of Northumberland and it still appears to be totally white, thankfully I don't live on Cheviot.

The snow where Shep lives has all but gone, if you open your eyes there is still an odd little bit here and there, it gives you a sense of security until you raise your eyes to the higher ground where gullies, slacks and dyke backs are still hanging on to the white stuff.
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The above photo was taken late this afternoon, the 31st January, and as you can see for yourselves that white stuff is still around and as we are having frosty nights and clear cold days it will not be moving in a hurry.

The winter so far has been a costly one. Fodder is getting low, some ran out of hay, others are more fortunate. Those with plenty of in-bye ground which is suitable for making hay went into the winter with a decent stash but even some of those think they may well be short by the winters end. Some dependant on buying the stuff in were to the point of running out when the fresh arrived and enabled wagons access to fetch more fodder in.

Hill sheep are hardy characters, during an open (mild) winter they may never see a bite of hay and only begin to receive supplementary feeding such as sheep cake or feed blocks when they are getting closer to lambing. However, in weather such as we've just experienced they need hay and feed. A month of harsh weather has left big holes in full hay sheds and supplies of feeding stuffs depleted.

Deliveries have been going on all over the valley. Bulk wagons of sheep cake arriving on farms and blowing their contents either into buildings or feed towers. Tons of feed blocks and pallet fulls of sheep cake in bags being unloaded at other farms. Hay and silage being delivered to those who need it. The agricultural feed merchants have been kept busy.

As have fuel merchants, with heating oil, diesel, coal all being replenished - just in case.

I've said earlier that sheep went into the winter in good physical fettle - mother natures way mebbes as they've needed that fettle. Well farmers had a good trade in the back end for their lambs, is that mother natures way too?

Trade for lambs has been dire for far too many years, it was good to see the frowns on farmers faces abate slightly as they saw their stock sell successfully, realising prices which would help them remain in farming, hopefully allowing them to draw a better wage as many will be living on the minimum wage if not less, especially the tenant farmers.

This 'spare' cash, if there actually was any, is now being spent. Winter came early and at a cost. Some sheep have died, fortunately not too many but again at a cost - the loss of a productive sheep with the added insult of paying to dispose of the carcase. A double whammy.

One farm which doesn't have ground suitable for making hay or silage and so buys it all in at the end of summer (sufficient to see them through the winter), has had to buy as much in again and truly hope this will see them through the winter. Two other farmers I have heard of lately are putting a cost of £10,000 on this past month. Both farms with large hill flocks which wouldn't normally see a cost of this degree so early in the winter.

Not only has it been a difficult time but also a costly time.

February is often the month when winter can arrive, I wonder what it will have in store for us? Fortunately, everyone has had time to replenish their stocks of everything and anything, both in the farmyard and the house, they are ready for whatever nature sends their way.
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Shep remains optimistic,even though the weather forecasters are still threatening snow. The snowdrops are sticking their heads out, soon to give us a floral display to warm the heart and have us believe spring is around the corner. Flocks of Fieldfares are cheering up the out bye ground, again giving a feeling that spring may well arrive. An early spring, although still a way off yet, could be mother natures answer, easing the fodder situation as grass grows early in the season. Let's hope so.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Tracks and tracking

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One thing about the snow is it's easy to spot tracks, fresh fallen snow obliterates those tracks and then they reappear when something sets foot on the white stuff
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My tracks seem to be going in a different direction to those of the dogs and as for these sheep tracks, well, I doubt they had been around for a while
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Rabbits, foxes, mice, rats, otters and various bird tracks have all been easily seen in this wintry weather. Today, however, I met a fresh set of tracks. Not only did I meet them but had the privilege of being the one to test drive them. Now I bet that's got you going, how on earth do you test drive tracks left by feet.... Who mentioned feet?
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Guess the picture has given it away huh? Aye, tracks for a quad bike. An American import with only one supplier in this country. Ordered when the weather was at it's worst and bikes wouldn't travel through the depth of snow, unfortunately delivered when the snow was receding.

It took the better half five hours to fit these things onto the bike yesterday. Mind you special brackets had to be fitted to the bike before these contraptions could be put into place. Apparently the brackets will remain a permanent fixture on the bike hopefully meaning it will be a great deal faster to change wheels to tracks the next time.

On turning up on this farm this morning to gather I was given the honour of having the tracked bike to use, the farmer taking the other bike with it's usual wheels. I thought this quite a treat until I set off with the monster.

The tracks are intended for very soft ground, snow, sand and anything a normal four wheeled bike would struggle to travel through, they're definitely not intended for hard roads and green ground. I found driving along in a straight line was fine, steering was a totally different matter.

A normal bike wheel only has about 25 square inches making contact with the ground, whereas these tracks will have nearer 300 square inches making contact (as Shep is hopeless with anything mathematical these measurements have been added by the better half), obviously this will make the turning circle a great deal bigger on the tracked bike as there is more purchase with the ground. I've never driven a tank yet but would say a similar comparison would be the difference between steering a car and a tank.

I did feel at times that I was trying to steer a tank, to say the steering was heavy was an understatement, however, on snow it was a different matter all together. I found a bank side totally filled in with snow, you would never consider taking a normal wheeled quad into a situation like this - it would sink, especially as I drove uphill and the gradient was steep. In actual fact the farmer attempted the same manoeuvre with his 'normal' bike and didn't even managed a few feet. The tracked creature flew up with no hassle and was much easier to steer.

I also took the tracks through a bottomless boggy spot - the sort Shep is noted for sinking into - it flew over the top without a hick, no sign what so ever that it would even consider sinking and never cut through the soggy surface.

I have to conclude that these tracks will indeed be successful when there is snow on the ground and access to stock isn't possible with your traditional four wheeled bike, if they were here a week or two back this particular farmer's life would have been a great deal easier. It may be time consuming fitting the tracks but is bound to become quicker than the initial fitting, hopefully it will just be like changing the wheels.

Must say though that I'm back there tomorrow and would give my eye teeth to have my wheels back, or mebbes I ought to hope for more snow??!!

Thursday, 28 January 2010


There has been an upsurge of interest in starlings of late. A great deal of coverage both in the press and on the TV of the shortages of the feathery creatures and the wonderment of the huge flocks of them which reside in some parts of the country.

There is no doubt that it is indeed an awesome sight to see thousands of these birds flocking together, swirling in a dark mass in the skies over our heads. I also have to agree that when the light catches them right they are indeed a beautiful sight, their plumage a myriad of iridescent colours, nature at it's best, an optical delight.

That however, is where it ends. My wonderment of starlings is extremely short lived.

They are gregarious, greedy little critters. In my mind they are equivalant to rats with wings.

The recent cold spell has seen the starlings singling out Shep's garden, due to a soft spot somewhere the bird feeders have been kept full - or at least were until the starlings arrived.

Quite a sight I guess to see them fighting and squabbling amongst themselves to guzzle on as much food as possible before being knocked off the podium as another takes up the quest.

They can't turn up one at a time, oh no, safety in numbers is the answer and so they turn up in a drove, or ought that to be a flock? They show no patience even though there are many of them, it is still a matter of survival of the fittest. Fighting and bickering like badly behaved children they cause a raucous mayhem in the garden, much to the dismay of the other feathery visitors who find competing with these bullies too much for them, they sit around patiently hoping to clear up some crumbs once the beasts have had their fill and fled.

All fearful of the gregarious starling, except that is, for one feathery visitor which has once again decided to grace Shep's garden. There is one whom has the starling in a flap, unfortunately it has all the others in a flap too - the Sparrow Hawk.

Away back when the days were longer and the weather warmer I found myself rooted to the spot whilst picking redcurrants in the garden. The noise of wing beats, many of them and fast and furious, drew my attention as a flock of starlings skimmed over my head and narrowly missed the shed roof, some taking shelter in bushes around me. A silent form banged into a bush no more than 10 feet away and after squealing and leaf shaking it dropped to the ground. Just feet infront of me I was able to take in the sight of a Sparrow Hawk, starling in its talons and wings embracing it's catch. I hardly dared breathe and found myself gasping when it took to the air - both in wonderment and lack of breath!

Undoubtedly I would complain if the Robins, Tits, finches etc., found themselves at the mercy of this hunter, there is no doubt some of them will find themselves in this perilous position. I can, however, only applaud the hawk when it's hunting instinct finds itself latched onto a starling, there are plenty around to feed it for a week or two and oh, how I wish.....

Friday, 22 January 2010

snow blindness

Life can be bad enough for the sheep in the weather we've just had without any further complications but odd sheep have been showing signs of snow blindness.

Head raised and often cocked to one side she'll stumble around with a strange gait, bumping into anything which may get in her way and rebounding like a sprung coil in any direction her body will take her. To stand and listen with the raised head once again cocked to one side, tentatively stepping forward with high steps before again recoiling from some imaginary something which she deems to be in her way. Sometimes just wandering aimlessly in circles again with the high stepped, staggering gait.

Whatever the season there is often a reason for some sheep to suffer blindness, whether it be snow blindness or heather blindness it can cause them great distress. Often linked with air born particles; heather blindness seems to coincide with the pollen when the heather is in bloom or when the seeds disperse easily off the plants, snow blindness most probably due to the icy particles blowing into their eyes, or also seeds off the hay being fed to them.

A feeling most of you out there will have experienced this winter, snow in your eyes - funny how it stings!

We stand a great deal taller than a sheep, they're spending all their living hours at the same level as the blowing snow - those icy particles whipped up by the wind and blowing horizontally across the terrain directly onto the sheep. Of course they can turn their backs to the weather or find shelter somewhere but unrelenting night and day can take it's toll. They also have to shove their faces into the snow to forage, no getting away from the stuff.

Your eyes are stinging, smarting, watering but there's nowt you can do - no goggles, hands to rub or bathe just more snow, more cold. The cornea can get damaged, frostbite may even be a factor along with the glare of the sun. Sunny days, frosty nights and no protection for your eyes - not pleasant.

The eyes start with a redness/bloodshot and start watering, they can then turn opaque and in truly severe cases the eye gets so inflamed it looks like it may burst and indeed can, although rarely. Not pleasant.

Many years ago the flock I was shepherding were struck down with this snow blindness, quite a high percentage in actual fact as usually you can be lucky enough to only have a few suffering this misery but in this particular case there were many.

An experiment was run, unintentionally I must say.

Some of the ewes ended up left out on the hill and received no treatment what so ever, the remainder were brought into the fields to prevent them falling into drains and the likes. There were two fields with blind sheep in, one which I tended to and one which the farmer tended to. My sheep received veterinary approved treatment with penicillin cream or powder being put into their eyes. The other field received an old tradition the farmers father had sworn by with neat whisky being administered to their eyes (I did think at the time that this was a terrible waste!).

The conclusion? All sheep recovered at the same rate, even those which had been untreated - interesting! It must be said though that none of them were so severely afflicted that their eyes ruptured.

Sheep with blindness are best left undisturbed, unfortunately when they're receiving supplementary feeding as at the moment that causes a disturbance to any which can't see. If they can hold with the rest of the flock they'll move along with the sound of their mates but once they feel isolated a mild panic sets in, with deep snow and drains to contend with this is a dangerous situation as she might well find herself stumbling and bounding into a situation she can't get out of, even catching her and treating her on the spot can cause a great deal of trouble, it pays to weigh up the pros and cons as the least disturbed and more relaxed they feel the more secure they will be and less likely to get into physical difficulties.

It may seem cruel to be kind but especially out on the open hill in poor weather it pays to keep off the afflicted beast as interference can cause far more bother and be a greater threat to her life. When the day comes that they find themselves in the sheep pens treatment can then be administered. Yet more work for the shepherd.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Snow bound sheep

Shep received a call from the shepherd out bye. He had a number of sheep he was unable to reach and could I go and assist. "Nae bother" was the answer.

The sheep out bye were still in the fields from tup time. Deemed to be a nuisance when the snow first arrived before Christmas as there is far more rough out on the hill and they would have fared better, however, as the depth of snow increased it soon became obvious that it was a god send to have these sheep where you knew where they were - in the fields.

Out bye is the biggest hill farm in Tarset - 7,500 acres and only one man there to tend to 1,500 sheep. It is also the highest farm in Tarset which meant it received the most snow. Many of it's fields are not 'normal' fields, they are enclosed areas of hill ground and are a fair old acreage, some of these fields being as big as some of the smaller pieces of hill ground in Tarset.

Shep duly turned out there, on the quad as my car was never going to negotiate those roads which were getting dug out daily by the shepherd and his plough.

Day one saw us failing to reach the sheep. Quads wouldn't travel due to depth of snow, the ground is not suitable for the tractor. Our biggest problem was finding the big drain on the way to where we expected the sheep were. This drain has a bridge made of railway sleepers to enable sheep and quad to cross. Both the shepherd and I have crossed it a hundred and more times but for love nor money we could not find the spot. The day was getting on and attempts were aborted.

Shep returned the following day, any sings of where we had been the day before were obliterated as the wind had been blowing, the road had required ploughing out again and all tracks were filled in, including the drain which we had dug around in the day before - everything was totally filled in, everywhere was a level white wilderness. We set off on foot having finally found the crossing spot at the drain.
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Sheep need a track made for them to travel along when there is any depth of snow, so as we headed out through snow that was rarely less than knee deep we plunged about with feet and legs trying to make a track for the sheep to follow on our return, a sledge and bale were towed behind in an attempt to press the snow down even further as the long narrow legs of sheep would soon drop through the depth of snow and unlike us who can use our arms and upper bodies to try and extricate ourselves they would find themselves snow bound, unable to find purchase beneath their feet they would struggle to drag their bodies out of the snow, only to plunge into it again. Sheep would soon become exhausted.

We eventually reached the point we were expecting the sheep to be, it was probably a mile walk out to them and visibility was obscured until we climbed a hill and had full view of the wood side where it was expected they would be standing waiting.

On first view of the spot there was indeed a handful of sheep to be seen on the edge of the planting (wood or shelter belt). Shep was sent out wide with dog in tow to skirt beyond the edge of the planting in case the sheep had a track made further out into the field. They hadn't and there was no sign of them.

Eventually Shep and the shepherd joined up and found between us there were a dozen sheep. Umm...... slight problem, we had hoped for nearer 265! Slight problem!!

Tracks soon gave the game away. Depth of snow had meant the sheep were able to walk over the fence and get into the planting
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We were left with a slight quandary. The sheep would take little hurt where they were for a while, snow depth would be less amongst the trees enabling them to scratch through for moss and grasses, they could also get at the bark of the trees. There would be more for them in there than out in the open at the moment. Time was getting on as well. It had taken a long time to get out there, we had been slowed down by making a track and were going to lose daylight before long. Again the job was aborted. It was heartbreaking to find the track we had so laboriously laid out in our wake had indeed filled in with blowing snow by our return.

Eventually, days later and with extra staff there were four of us headed off to the planting. It was the coldest, rawest day of the whole winter out there. The fresh had just begun to set in and the snow was harder on the top, some places were bearer due to the snow having being blown off which helped our journey. Overcast with a strong wind chill it paid to keep going as stopping soon had the chill getting through many layers.

The idea of extra staff was to give us a chance to beat the sheep out of the trees. A planting of about an acre and a half needed to be covered and we wanted nothing to turn back on us. Having dogs I had the outside to guard as there were holes in the fence out onto the hill. I soon found myself in waist deep snow, at least I knew the sheep wouldn't be travelling through that.

The journey through the planting was rough, sheep tracks were easily visible in the snow, many a time hands and knees were required to follow tracks below blown down trees, having only seen a handful of sheep myself and almost hoarse from shouting and whistling I was feeling anything but optimistic when there they were ......
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Soon shepherd and sheep were reunited out in the open
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The sheep took some encouraging to head through some of the deeper snow, eventually a small group was taken from the main flock and forced to hit our track and follow it.
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The first group helped knock the snow down, they were followed by another small group of sheep before the main of the flock followed on. It is easier to battle with a few sheep than a large group.
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By doing the job this way the main group just followed on like lambs
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Eventually, sheep were safe. Brought to ground closer to civilisation where fodder could be taken to them. Third time lucky!
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the moon and the weather

How often have I heard an old herd (shepherd) mutter "Aye, 'til the new moon comes in there'll be nae change in the weathor", "Hev ye seen it? lying wi'it's points doon'll let the weather oot, points up'll keep the weathor in ye know"

Have to admit I don't always take note of the moon and it's doings but then it aint always there to be seen anyhow.

I am aware though, but only because I checked in my diary, that the 16th December saw the first snow fall in Tarset and it coincided with a new moon - umm.

We had another new moon on 15th January. Has the weather changed? Well, yes it has come fresh, there is still a lot of snow lying around but it is softening and shifting, life is looking hopeful. For the time being.

As for the new moon coming in, well...... we had rain, sleet, snow and a wind with an easterly aspect. Now was there also sunshine? Could well have been a faint flicker somewhere.

So where does that leave us? I guess if you're an optimist then the weather did change, or you could say we just had a variety of more of the same - similar weather to what came to Tarset a month previous. Does that then mean we have to wait 'til the next new moon??

I don't know. I do know that those older and wiser than myself say the white stuff lies around waiting for more to join it, if that's the case we better hope this fresh continues and lets the white stuff disappear. .

Sheep are managing to break through the snow and graze more easily now, life is looking up - or is it?

Sheep have fared not too badly but the long duration of poor weather is beginning to take it's toll. They went into the winter fit (in general) this year - Mother Natures way mebbes as they've needed that cover on their backs to see them through this cold spell. Anything which was looking questionable as to whether it would see the winter through is most likely away in the dead cart at a cost of £14 to the farmer,or still hidden under the snow somewhere. The others are reaching the point where lambs are growing inside them and they have more than themselves to feed, weaknesses are just beginning to show and this in turn may lead to poor lambing crops as lambs get reabsorbed or aborted - again natures way.

The snow is melting just in time before the sheep weaken but there are fresh dangers as the snow softens and melts. The obvious, of course, is flooding so a gradual thaw would be gratefully received by those in the lower lying areas of the valley.

Hill sheep start to rake further away from the spots where they have been receiving fodder, scratching in through the snow to their preferred choice of natural herbage. That's good, every shepherd is pleased to see them starting to fend for themselves. There are however many open drains (ditches) on hill ground and these can be dangerous to cross when soft or even icy snow is on the edges, they'll be running with water too so anything falling in will soon get sodden and may struggle to get out, battling with mushy snow as they try to clamber up the sides of the drains.

Sometimes crossing points the sheep have used during the snowy time may not be ideal points to cross now. The drains can be a danger to them all year round but more so in times of snow cover, flooding or when heavily in lamb.

It is a precarious time for the hill sheep as they spread themselves out further and further afield each day, a time when you really don't want them getting startled and running about. Bear this in mind if you're visiting the countryside and taking a walk on the hills and moors - sheep can be easily startled, if they are keep an eye out in case they don't come out the other side of that drain or burn.

And as for the moon? Well, who knows? I certainly don't. The following link to a weather forecast station seems to show we'll have what came in with the new moon - a bit of everything

Monday, 11 January 2010

Homeward Bound

Four sheep took an awful lot of encouraging to go join their mates and get some food
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Drains and burns are suddenly more difficult to negotiate
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Moss is for ever alert
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Steering needed to keep them on the right track
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Eventually home is within sight
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Not much further now girls
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If that seemed hardwork what about the other 265 that need fetching to safety? Watch this space........

On the move

Eventually the wily sheep are beaten and are on the move to safer ground. Their mates had come down off the hill and are getting fed near the steading.

Round and around

Hilarious! If you have a warped sense of humour. Bright dog and wily sheep!

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Lucky or what?

The forecast was threatening wind and the snow lying was powdery.....

So far through this spell of wintry weather we have been very fortunate in most of Tarset, for all there has been some heavy snowfall and a fair amount of lying snow we have had little or no wind and that is a god send.

Snow accompanied by wind causes drifting and the amount of snow lying would produce some awesome drifts - then everyone would have something to winge (complain) about. There has been some drifting in the higher more remote areas of the valley but in general life is bearable.

Away outbye the road has been filling in as quickly as the shepherd can plough it out, obviously he has his own plough for the tractor as there are no council services away out -bye. The picture below shows the gate next to a cattle grid is completely covered and the road once again is filling in with snow. Another neighbour has had similar problems resulting in the wife being blocked out for four days until council services could send a digger to clear the road, it does mebbes help to have your own tractor and plough for these occasions.
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The drift over this wall shows how dangerous it can be for sheep seeking shelter, they can so easily be happed (covered) up and lost from sight.
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As I said the forecast for today was threatening wind and yes it came, quite windy it was indeed but at the same time it came fresh (thawed). The result being we've had a warmer day than we've had for quite a while resulting in the snow that's lying becoming heavy due to it softening and that resulted in the wind being unable to lift it up with it's invisible strength and throw it around - great news!

Is this the start of the thaw or is there more trouble on the way? Now that only time will tell.

This weather has come early in the winter, it is to be expected in February but to commence in December is slightly unnerving. To date it has been bearable and relatively good stock weather. The hard frosts have prevented us from getting snow fall when the warmer coastal areas have been succumbing to the stuff. Will warmer air mean we're about to get a further dropping of snow? Will wind come with it? Or will there be a kind, gradual thaw? I don't know. I do know there is nothing you can do about the weather other than prepare for what ever it may bring.

So far we've had a 'good old fashioned winter', let's wait and see what else is in store for us.

Friday, 8 January 2010

The Great Escape

Today saw a break out from the valley. Actually the day started with a break out from the cottage.

Shep's attempts to open the back door this morning failed miserably, didn't matter how hard I yarked (pulled) on the door handle the door refused to budge, more force required was the logic I followed until it dawned on me that I may well break the door in half or worse, it's cold enough without a door as well!

It went through my mind to ring the farm and ask them to walk up and give the door a bit of boot from the outside when the better half emerged, a knife used as a chisel along the thresh (bottom) and side of the door soon had it open and the blast of cold air almost knocked you over, a quick look at the outdoor thermometer saw it was registering -14 - Brr......

Hopefully the problem has since been resolved with a good dowsing of household salt along the thresh to stop the door sticking to it - time will tell but at least our neighbours now know that if we are waving frantically to them in the morning they are to come and lay the boot in to our door - there's something to be said for having neighbours!!

Anyhow, the time Shep was haying the handful of sheep a few miles down the road the better half got onto the telephone and rang around seeing who needed provisions. A trip into town is not to be wasted when the roads are poor and there are those further out who are practically housebound.
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We are both great believers in only travelling when necessary and as the chainsaw was repaired and ready to collect and the part for a neighbours tractor was in and ready to collect then there was a good reason to venture out of the valley. The weather forecast is threatening wind and that may well cause a lot of problems with roads blowing in so now was the time to get away in - bye and get back again.

When Shep returned we had two neighbours requiring a lift to town, one which arrived by quad and between the lot of us we had shopping lists for nine folks.

The women folks were dropped at the supermarket and the better half did the machinery collecting, along with dog food (which we have plenty of but when there you might as well get more) and a jerry can of petrol for the quad. Within two hours we were heading for home.

The supermarket saw us in our finery, not glad rags but working clothes, wellies included. There's no point in dressing up if you're going to have to get out and push, dig or walk home, oh no, we were practically dressed. There are plenty of folks go shopping in their work wear, you see them in their office suits - well, we're no different!

Shopping for someone else is quite a challenge when they need stuff you've never bought before, I actually had to stop someone and ask what one of the items on my list was as I had never come across it before, it was a breakfast cereal and easily found.

Now the better half likes puzzles, he possesses one of those minds that loves to work out any sort of conundrum, it was needed in the supermarket car park. A hatchback boot with a jerry can of petrol, sack of dog food, chainsaw and tractor parts then needed to receive shopping for seven households - oh and a microwave! Umm.....

Fortunately, it appeared the whole North Tyne had broken out today and we bumped into a near neighbour who also had a car full of people requiring provisions but a bigger boot and less shopping than us, he very kindly carried some of ours home.

It was surprising to find the roads to town weren't great but better than ours, the 4wd car is obviously a great help although it was light on the front end due to the weight in the back. We arrived home safely.
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Groceries were delivered to the out lying neighbours and all is well in the countryside. I have to say we didn't actually need anything but took the opportunity to get some extra in for the freezer. Our pantry is always well stocked and the freezer full of meat, we grow our own veggies - turnip and parsnip are still in the ground even though many were given away at Christmas, bags of tatties (potatoes) are stored and should be fine if we can keep the frost off them, plenty of ingredients in the house for baking so all in all we ought to be well sorted for a spell without access to shops.

Many people are sitting in front of their fires tonight content with the thought that they once again have food in their cupboards, it's the great thing about living out in the sticks, everyone rallies and makes sure those that need can hopefully get.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Rhododendron poisoning

'There's aye something'............. and it's rhododendron poisoning apparently for one farmer in the area.

The snow lies all around and the sheep are seeking something nice and green to chew on - who'd blame them? Shame they don't realise rhododendron is poisonous to their systems and will kill them.

Now rhododendron isn't exactly the sort of foliage you'd expect to find out on the hills, this particular hill ground has a rather grand 'estate house' built in its midst. I believe this manor was originally built as a shooting lodge and as befits most grand houses it has rhododendrons growing in its grounds.

Apparently the gated driveway to this lodge found its gate had been left open and the hill sheep, eager to explore and find a sweeter bite and kinder shelter trundled away down with great curiosity. Now they say curiosity killed the cat, however, in this instance it seems it's killed the sheep. Not all of them you'll be pleased to hear but some have indeed succumbed.

I'm not too sure that rhododendron would actually be a sweeter bite for the sheep but due to the fact it is an evergreen it would definitely be tempting and appear to be an easy meal for them in weather such as we are having at the moment. As it doesn't take many nibbles to cause the problem by the time the sheep decided it wasn't quite the palatable meal they had hoped for the damage would have been done.

Apparently within a handful of hours you'll have a poorly sheep, salivating and showing signs of bad guts and general ill health, a handful of hours later and they'll probably be dead.

I have to say that personally I have never met a sheep with rhododendron poisoning but I well remember being told the antidote by an elderly farmer when I was a kid. Seemingly, if the ailing creature is found in time, it can be dosed with strong tea, the tannin in the tea may well help to neutralise the toxins in the rhododendron and all being well the animal may recover.

The tea could be administered by way of a stomach tube, a tube through the mouth and down the gullet into the stomach, care has to be taken that the tube enters the stomach and not the lungs, otherwise drowning will become the cause of death. A traditional drenching gun could also be used, the sort you would use to orally administer worm drenches.

A dosing bottle can also be used. Years ago before drenching guns came on the market all sheep were dosed by way of a bottle, I still have one which I use occasionally. A wine bottle doubles up nicely as it has a long narrow neck which helps with the administration of the drench. Sheep do not have teeth at the sides of their mouths which is a great assess when using a bottle as you are not going to knock their teeth out getting the neck of the bottle into their mouths and towards the back of their throats. The bottle is tipped up and the drench allowed to run, it is necessary to give the beast a chance to swallow as again choking or drowning is not the required outcome. I always prefer to use a bottle if administering a larger amount of fluid to a sheep but everyone to their own, I'm not saying it is the best method, just works well for me.

When the Rhoddies are flowering in May you will undoubtedly see them in a different light and be warned, they aren't just poisonous to sheep........

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Why don't all sheep eat hay?

"When the hay/ straw or whatever it is gets put out for the sheep why don't some of them eat it?" is a question I was asked recently. Kinda threw me for a moment or two I have to say but I would utter some sort of knowledgeable reply no doubt.
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Sheep will be being fed on silage or hay. Straw can and does get used for feeding but generally is used for bedding, it would be fairly safe to say that whatever type of bale is being fed to sheep in Tarset it will be either silage or hay.

The big round bales may be silage or hay, the small oblong bales which are easily carried by man will be hay.

So why don't all the sheep eat the hay or silage?

When I sit back and contemplate the query there are actually a number of answers some of which depend on how the stuff was presented for them.

All fodder is supplementary feeding, a substitute for the real thing. Given to the stock when their own choice of food is in short supply or of poor nutritional value.

At the moment, with snow cover, bales are being put out for the sheep to help them keep their bellies full. On the rough hill ground it is still possible for the sheep to scratch through the snow and find green shoots lying below it, to many this might be sweeter to the palate than what the shepherd is offering.

If the bales are put into feeders - that being round metal feeders for the round bales and metal hay hecks with lids for the small bales - there is a limit to how many bodies can get around these feeders at one go so it may appear that some aren't eating the fodder, whereas it is most probable they've either had their fill and left or can't shoulder their way in to have a guzzle.
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The large round bales can be rolled out on the ground, either mechanically or physically, there by allowing all the sheep to gain access to the food. There will be a long line of hay with sheep standing, walking on it and eating it.

Small bales are easily scattered out on the ground and generally done so in a large circle with a decent space between each slice of the bale. The idea being that the sheep will stand around each slice of hay eating it and excreting away from the fodder, if they wish to move on to a different slice they can do so without walking over the fodder on the ground, they have to travel across open ground to reach the next slice, hopefully that way there will be less waste.
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Many explanations as to why it would appear some sheep aren't eating the fodder on offer, just like humans some are greedy and will gorge themselves, others are shy and get knocked out, there are those who have found something sweeter and are quite content with their lot and there is always the minority who just wont - I wouldn't thank you for 'foreign' food, sheep can be equally as choosy.