Wednesday, 30 June 2010


Kale - a brassica, or cabbagey type thing to the normal folks amongst us, it's often grown to feed sheep on, especially finishing lambs, those being the lambs that need fattening to be sold for meat. Sown early summer kale will be ready in the autumn for the lambs to be turned onto to be fattened up. Apparently a diet exclusively of kale for a long duration can actually cause harm to sheep as there are many toxins in the plant - it can even become an appetite inhibitor ( you can tell I've been googling can't you?) seems there's no winning with sheep, they can always find a reason not to thrive!!

Anyhow. Why am I telling you all this? Occasionally kale has been grown in the North Tyne for the purpose of feeding lambs on but that ain't the reason I'm sharing my wisdom with you, infact it has absolutely nothing what so ever to do with the gastronomical delights of sheep cuisine, although there is a link with sheep - obviously or I wouldn't be sharing it with you.

Kale is a new addition to the Shep household.
Posted by Picasa
Yep! Kale is in actual fact a collie pup.

The first pup I have ever had which had a name before it was born, it also had a brand new shiney dog chain before it was born and yet it took me quite a while to accept the idea of having another dog. I have two dogs, I really didn't relish the thought of a third. But........

I guess it's called forward planning. Glen will soon be ten years old and is ageing quicker than he ought due to his leg injury a few years back. Moss is heading to be five year old. I always claim it takes two years before you have a young dog to be confident of, something you can begin to rely on. By this time Glen will be twelve and Moss will be passing his prime at seven years of age, really, once I got my mathematical head onto my shoulders, common sense told me it was nearing the time to get another dog to join the pack. My heart told me I really did not want the hassle or the effort caused by owning three dogs. But........

I heard tell of a bitch that was in pup, not any old bitch (or at least not to me), this bitch was Mosses full litter sister. There were only three pups in Mosses litter, I got one, the shepherd out-bye kept one and his brother-in-law got the other. This bitch which was in pup belonged to the brother-in-law who just so happened to be the shepherd on the neighbouring farm to where I lambed in Scotland.

The bloodline which is in Moss I have had now for twenty years and I would really like to keep some of that bloodline, even though it is now getting diluted somewhat. I could try and talk someone into letting Moss line their bitch or I could take one of this litter, the latter option was the easiest.
Posted by Picasa

And so, along came Kale.

He was born on the 5th April and I was invited up almost immeadiately to view the litter which comprised of five dogs and one bitch, viewing puppies so young is really a waste of time, they just look like little guinea pigs which grunt and squeak, suck and sleep. However, I was able to ascertain that there were two dark pups, carrying less white markings than the others and they were both dog pups. Things were looking good, except, for all I had a dog chain and a name I still couldn't bring myself around to the idea that I really ought to have a pup, the logistics of owning three dogs was wearing me down before I even got there!

I say I had a name, there were two at the time, either Kale or Scot. Kale due to the fact that the area the pups were born in is known as the Kalewater (see, nothing to do with cabbages at all!!) and Scot because he was obviously born in Scotland. Kale grew on me over the weeks, especially as I met two other Kales whilst up there (which may cause some confusion at future lambings as we all holler the same name across the hill tops). Scot went by the wayside. I once new a Scot and didn't like him very much. So Kale it was and always will be.

It took a while for Kale to take up residence at the Shep household. Daresay I could have brought him back when I finished the lambing but I didn't, the following week I was back in the area for a church service of thanksgiving for the lambing and there was an opportunity to fetch him home, I stalled for another week. Life was too hectic, too much work to do, too many early mornings and not enough time to deal with a puppy. The following week came and went, lamb marking out bye had me worn down to the bone and the thought of a pup added to the stress.

Finally, three weeks after the lambing was finished Kale was delivered to a farm in the area and I collected him in the evening. He was nine weeks old and is now twelve weeks old, fully innoculated and ready to meet the outside world.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Blood Rot

There's some wonderful old words for some pretty basic nasties. Blood Rot - makes the mind boggle, what on earth could that be? Quite simple really, if you know that is....... Fluke, or ought I say liver fluke.

Okay........... so what on earth is liver fluke?

Well, a nasty little parasite known as a fluke which likes wet ground, gets ingested by both sheep and cattle and then heads for the liver and has a feast. Actually, it's not quite that simple a snail is also required to help the liver fluke with it's life cycle.

Any wet ground will be host to snails, although this is a specific snail which becomes host to the fluke but it undoubtedly likes any old wet ground just like other snails. These snails pick up the fluke larvae and are hosts until the larvae has grown. The larvae then leaves the snail and sits around on herbage at the wet spots waiting to be eaten by a sheep, once eaten the larvae finds itself in fluke heaven.

The fluke passes through the intestines and finds its way to the liver where it camps out, has a really good feed and being a hermaphrodite it does its own thing and lays eggs which get passed out of the sheep, hatch into larvae and get gobbled up by snails to start the cycle off all over again - very clever!!

So why Blood Rot? Well, one of the symptoms of fluke infestation is anaemia, this is so easily picked up on by looking at the whites of the eyes of a sheep. It pays to pull the bottom eyelid down to get a good view and should there be no sign or little sign of blood vessels in the whites of the eyes then you have an anaemic sheep and quite possibly blood rot or fluke. The mucous membranes around the eyes and mouth will also appear pale - not always so easy to pick up in the mouth as some sheep seem to have dark skin but for those that don't it is quite evident.

There are other symptoms - a poke may be noticed below the jaw. I bet that's got you scratching your heads....... When I was a kid I'd be given a poke of sweets, you could also get poke of chips at the chippy. Basically a bag is what a poke is and so the sheep may show a fluid filled sack under her bottom jaw, veterinary jargon would probably call it an oedema (I think).

There are many other signs of fluke infestation, many of which could be confused with other conditions as is so typical with sheep illnesses and diseases. If in doubt slit her open is what I say. Wait until she's died though!

A few years back there was a farm I was working on which had sheep getting lethargic, weak and badly thriven for no apparent reason. Then they died! One day when I was on this particular farm curiosity got the better of me, a poorly sheep showed obvious signs of anaemia and it quickly died giving me a chance to get the pocket knife out and delve around inside her. Ugh! It was 'orrible. I've seen many fluke in livers, usually having to slice the liver to find them but this particular sheep had a very pale liver which was over run with fluke easily seen with the naked eye - absolutely no need to slice away and investigate, they were there to be seen and still alive in this warm carcase - Ugh!!

A fluke is a funny looking thing, kinda oval in shape, the size of a finger nail and flat, oh! it's also a whitish colour with a dark mouth part if you look close enough - yuk! Fortunately I've never liked liver to eat or I may well have been put off. Don't worry if you do like eating liver though coz the inspectors at the abbatoirs will only allow healthy livers to be passed to the butchers, there is no fear of the man on the street eating a fluke infested liver.

So Fluke, Blood Rot, whatever you want to call it.......... what do you do about it? Oral drenching is the answer with a 'wormer' which will kill fluke, taking care not to cause a resistance to a specific chemical within the dose or there will be problems. Draining ground is also a great management tool as this decreases the wet holes for the snails to live in therefore denying the fluke its host.

Years ago a farm I herded on full time had a rusty old tin lived on the wall head of the byre (cow house), this rusty old tin held a thing called fluke capsules which I thought looked just like cod liver oil capsules. They looked like they had been there for centuries and were probably 30 odd years out of date but......... they still seemed to work. Should an individual sheep be found with what appeared to be blood rot I would administer one of these ancient capsules and lo and behold the sheep would find a new lease of life and rally.

The liver is able to regenerate itself but that will be dependant on the amount of damage it has suffered. The afore mentioned farm which was losing sheep took a couple of years to get the worst affected ewes back to a reasonable fitness, their livers must have taken a serious hammering.

Fluke is generally thought to be a winter problem, linked with wet weather and life cycles of snails. However a dry summer can be as bad as a wet winter. We're heading for a very dry summer, in fact Tarset is heading to be droughted off with only the hill ground thriving due to it being wet ground. This causes sheep and cattle to have to hunt for water unless there is a fresh supply in the form of a burn running through their ground. Wet, soggy holes are becoming watering holes and yes, you've got it, this can cause fluke to get a hold in the summer too.

I was in the Rede the other week gathering and I brought a ewe in on the back of the bike. She was too weak to walk in with the rest off the hill and laid down so I lifted her onto the back of the bike and gave her a lift. Her eyes were white and she had a poke under her chin - she had fluke which were feasting on her liver, if she's lucky a fluke dose may get her to rally it all depends how strong she can be in herself to rally back to some sort of health. "There's aye something"!

Saturday, 26 June 2010

louping ill

What a grand name - Louping Ill! Guess the second word gives the game away just a tad, makes one imagine that this could well be some 'orrible disease........ well, you'd be right to assume that, it is indeed yet another of those wonderful sheep diseases. A disease which affects the nervous system of the sheep none the less, a disease which is passed on to the sheep by an external parasite.

Ticks are the cause of Louping Ill and a multitude of other nasties with names like tick pyeamia and tick borne fever to name but a few.

I mentioned in an earlier posting that an ex boss of mine used to say he felt he had a touch of louping ill at the close of the lambing time, basically he was implying he was weary, tired, drained, which is indeed how sheep will appear, until the symptoms worsen that is.

The tick believe it or not is an arachnid, spider. Eight legged little fella who loves to suck blood. Latching on to any warm blooded creature passing by and gorging on their blood, any one with a dog may have seen them if they've been walking where there is longer grasses and a tick has taken the opportunity to latch onto the dog and have a feed.

This year has seen quite a tick rise. There is a tick rise twice a year - Spring and Autumn. Once the temperature rises the ticks become active and again in the back end, should we get one of those Indian summers there will be a rise of ticks.

The similarities between this year and 2001 are quite interesting. In Feb 2001 (just as foot and mouth broke out) we here in Tarset had one hell of a snow fall, it came overnight and caught man and beast out, there seemed no warning we just woke up to masses of snow with drifts higher than myself. This year we've had a long duration of snow but not the drifts of 2001. However, there were still pockets of snow lying at lambing time in 2001 and it was a cold barren lambing just as it has been this year. The 10th May is a date forever etched in my head, just prior to that date the weather warmed up and a heat wave ensued. Again there was no grass just as the trend seems to be this year. Another great similarity was one hell of a tick rise. A population of ticks which seemed second to none - interesting!

I can't help but wonder how on earth these tiny spidery mites survive the hard winters. They seemingly live in the dead grasses waiting for the weather to warm up, they also have a three year life cycle and are able to lie dormant for a full year without feeding - clever little souls.

Both 2001 and 2010 saw hill ewes suffering due to the harsh weather of winter and the barren cold spring, it was a challenge to keep them fit, full and milky, trying to ensure they would be kind and motherly towards their lambs. You got them through the lambing and then the ticks hit and they can hit hard when they have a mind, they can hang off sheep like bunches of grapes and even if they don't pass on any dreadful disease they do suck the blood, leading to anaemia if nothing else.

So. Back to Louping Ill. It's actually a disease I haven't seen for a year or two but am pretty sure I saw a ewe suffering from it when gathering for lamb marking away out bye, she was left on the hill and I'm not aware of her outcome.

Years back when I was a full time shepherd here in Tarset I would often have a sheep with a touch of louping ill. Herding the hill after lambing time one had to be fairly gentle with the sheep, raking them in onto the sweeter ground in the mornings then setting them out to the higher ground at night you would easily spot if anything wasn't right. Occasionally a lamb would be sprightly, running on but looking back for it's mother. She may be trailing along, trying to keep up or just not capable of trailing along at all.

I had been trained to treat such sheep with respect, not to hassle them. Having said that I'd always handle them when first seen, to see if there were signs of blood rot or any other nasty. A sheep with louping ill would often tremble and ticks or the scars where they had been would be evident, although all it would take would be just one tick which was carrying the louping ill virus - you wouldn't need hordes of them attached to the sheep.

Once a diagnosis had been drawn I would in future keep well away from the affected animal. Do not stress her was what had been drilled into my little brain. It may take a few weeks but often the sheep rallied, she had been left quite out on the hill and if luck was with you she would pull through.

Many sheep carry a resistance to Louping Ill, they've probably had a mild attack and ended up with antibodies in their systems which are then passed on to their lambs in the future, that's probably why I've seen so little of the disease in recent years.

Spring dipping was carried out to try and prevent a tick infestation. As close to lambing time as possible the sheep were all plunge dipped, immersed in water containing chemicals which would prevent any external parasites from living and breeding on their hosts. Today pour on medications tend to be used, again close to lambing time and again with the intention of preventing the external parasites from doing what they're good at and passing on their germs at the same time.

This leads to another similarity to 2001, this being on a personal note and relating to a specific piece of hill ground. In 2001 I deemed it to be so cold pre lambing that I wouldn't use the preventative pour on for ticks, deciding to wait until the lamb marking as I felt a tick rise was unlikely early on. This decision was to be my downfall and I paid dearly. The farmer who has sheep on the self same ground this year has asked my advice. He has found his sheep are carrying a serious tick burden and wondered what he ought to have done. Nine years have gone by and this is the first time he has had major concerns regarding the ticks. He like I realises he ought to have treated the sheep pre lambing, fortunately for him he is farming the ground in 2010 and not 2001. Next year he will have the job right.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Roman Wall Show

Affectionately known as the Twicey Show the Roman Wall Show is always held on the second Saturday in June - the first show of the season. Actually that is a lie, there is the Northumberland County Show held on the bank holiday Monday at the end of May but that is a big show, a commercial show, one with crowds of 20,000 plus people - not Shep's sort of show.
Posted by Picasa
Twicey Show is held in a field right beside Hadrian's Wall with a view to kill for, especially on a decent day such as today. It is a true rural show with one of the best turn outs of sheep in this area. A very early show as the majority tend to be held in August and September which means sheep have to be well forward to be in good condition to be shown, a lot of hard work will have gone into them to have them looking their best so close to the past lambing season.

There are classes for all the traditional breeds which are to be found along this stretch of Hadrian's Wall and all these classes are well supported.
Posted by Picasa
The swaledale sheep, a horned, hardy hill breed. The above is the class for a Shearling tup, eleven entries were competing for just three prizes. The male sheep have big strong horns, unlike the females who have finer horns.
Posted by Picasa
Then there are the Blackfaced Sheep, again a hardy hill breed, a heavier carcased sheep than the Swaledale. The above again shows
the male sheep (known as tups or rams) being judged, again they have strong, heavy horns.
Posted by Picasa
The Blue Faced Leicesters shown above are crossed onto the two afore mentioned hill breeds to produce what is known as a mule. The mule is a prolific sheep which is crossed with terminal sires to produce the ultimate fat lamb for the table.
Posted by Picasa
The mule class at the Twicey Show is to be seen to be believed. There are only classes for mule lambs, that being lambs born this year, most of which were born in April. The above class had 35 entries, 35 lambs competing for just three prizes! These lambs are still sucking their mothers - but for this day they left their mothers behind and came to the show to see who is the best - what tales they would have to tell when reunited back at home later in the day!!
Posted by Picasa
Judging at the Twicey Show is not for the faint hearted, the judge who was faced with 35 lambs in the ring eventually whittled them down to a final line up of 10 before letting them away to run loose round the show ring again enabling him to have a look at their finer points and finally chose one which he thought to be the best
Posted by Picasa
The best lamb in that particular class was the eventual overall champion in the mule lamb classes, not only did it beat the other 34 it was competing against in it's class but in all there were 88 lambs entered for all the mule lamb classes, this lamb from Carry House beat 87 of them to be crowned the best of the best - quite an achievement.

Shep had an enjoyable morning at the Twicey Show, having returned from lambing a month back I have had less days off than the number of fingers on one hand, it was grand to be able to enjoy a leisurely day, catch up on the crack (conversation) and see how every ones sheep were doing, find out how tups had bred and generally catch up on folk - some not seen since the back end sheep sales. I had to leave the judging of the sheep before the absolute overall, that being the best of every breed competing to be the best of the show.
Posted by Picasa
Before shooting off from the sheep pens I did just have time to watch the Overall Championship for the Black faced sheep. The above sheep was bred at Shitlington by a Sewingshields sire, sold at Hexham tup sale and now resides in the North Tyne at Redesmouth. As I am writing this it is dawning on me that I have no idea what eventually won the best in show - how amiss is that of me? Added 14th June: The Overall Best of Breed went to the above tup, it beat all the other breeds of sheep on show on the day to be deemed the best at the show.

So why did I have to shoot off from the sheep pens? Well, I had taken it into my head to show old Glen. There was a class for the best looking collie and I decided to take the old fella along. He is well past being fit for the show ring by rights but there is no doubt about it he is a bonny (pretty) dog. I felt he and I needed some time together, just the two of us. There is now a pup in residence at Shep's home, he will be taking over Glens role in a year or two, anyhow, doggie politics is getting a tad wearisome so Glen and I would go to the show alone and make a day of it!

I rushed off from watching the sheep being shown and got the old fella out of the car, dismayed to find his face was swelling........ I sought advice from a well respected dog handler who said not to worry about such things, Glen was given a quick brush up which only loosened his winter coat and made him shed hairs on piece - life wasn't looking too good! There were six entries in the class and fortunately we walked around the ring in a direction which hid Glens swollen face
Posted by Picasa
To my utmost amazement he won, the judge deemed him the best looking collie dog on the day and the red rosette was his - not at all bad for a ten year old dog with a face which was starting to swell, I'm sure the £6 prize money will go some way towards vets bills!!

The remainder of the afternoon saw Glen and I sitting quietly whilst watching the Cumberland wrestling
Posted by Picasa
Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling can be enjoyed at quite a few of the shows in the area, Bellingham Show included. I know little of the sport for all I have watched it for years, I do know that the hands have to be locked together all the time and that the first to touch the ground is the loser.
Posted by Picasa
In my youth I always fancied having a go, now I'm older and wiser I think the ground looks hard and it's highly probable it might hurt if you're the first to hit it. Unfortunately I can't remember the names of the above wrestlers but the lad in black is the 11 stone champion and the lad in traditional costume is the 12 stone champion, they put on a good show for the many watching and took the match to the best of three with the winner being the lad in traditional costume seen above winning a fall.

The day came to a close, Twicey Show is over for another year. Glen and I trundled home, weary but happy, both having enjoyed a day off, a spot of socialising and quality time together.