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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Tinkerbel said...

Good Writing and Photos Shep!!

Tarset Shepherd said...

Thank you for those kind words, pleased you liked it.