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.
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.
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.
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