Friday, 30 July 2010


No...... not kissing but kessing, also known as cowped or cowp-ed. Cast on her back basically, the sheep that is, not the shepherd!
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Now you might think the above is lying on her side, whatever she is doing she is stuck. Sheep get itchy, especially as the temperature rises. They can sweat under all that wool and like to have a bit rub every now and again. They can sometimes be seen sitting up on their backsides with head turned back over either trying to dig the horn in or chew with the teeth at that annoying little itch just behind the shoulder, the harder they try to reach the spot the more likely they are to roll over. Nine times out of ten they roll over, wriggle and get back onto their feet, occasionally they are not so lucky and get cowped with the result they are kessing.
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Fit sheep, those being the ones with broad backs, are more liable than skinny sheep to get stuck on their backs. Cheviots like this particular ewe are notorious for getting cast, they are broad backed and their wool is dense. This ewe was kessing at lambing time and was not amused at me finding a higher vantage point to get a better photo, she wanted back on her feet. Being heavy in lamb was a greater disadvantage to her as she was weighted down more and obviously broader too.

When sheep are kessing they can very easily die. A lot depends on whether they are lying with their heads down the hill or not and also the climatic conditions. If all these conditions are stacked against them they can die with in a couple of hours. They tend to gas up, quite literally swell, and as a result will die. What is known as the rough time is basically the summer months prior to shearing and shepherds out herding the hills are always on the look out for a sheep on her back, once clipped the threat lessens, the wool is no longer there to make the sheep feel quite as itchy and sweaty as previously. With some breeds the possibility always remains that they may get cast due to the size they are - the width of their backs. Cheviots for one are still notorious for kessing once clipped although not quite to the same degree as when they are carrying their coats.

Read no further if you are faint hearted.

I've already explained that sheep are in a dangerous position whilst lounging around on their backs with all four feet in the air due to them gassing up. Should anyone happen upon a creature in this state feel free to roll her back onto her feet, they will stagger around once up on their feet and care is to be taken that they don't fall in a drain or cowp over again due to their haste in running away from you.

There are other dangers a sheep may face when found in this position. She is unable to get away from predators, her only line of defence is to wriggle and kick her feet around. Predators are aware of this and the most ruthless amongst them will take their opportunity of a feast if it should arise.
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Crows and Ravens go for the eyes, tongue and backside. The above is of a very dead sheep, which did not die from predator attack but as you can see she lost her eye, which was pecked out. It is not unheard of to come across a sheep on its back with its eye out but she is still alive. They can survive with only one eye and there are sheep to be found running around on the hills sporting one eye only, the other having been lost to a corbie (carrion crow) or a raven. However, if the anus has been pecked out or the tongue one can only put the beast out of her misery if she should still be alive. These attacks can happen quickly once the beast is in a prone position, she tires the more she tries to resist attack and the predator never lets up on its quest for a feed.
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Now a sheep may survive an encounter with a eye pecking crow but she'll not stand a chance against a badger. Badgers are harder on sheep than foxes. A badger will always go in for a feed in the lisk (groin) and around the udder, and they always skin the beast - a dead give away to a badger attack. They are opportunists and like the birds aren't bothered whether their prey is alive or dead. This particular photo is of a dead sheep which was then eaten by badger but they are more than willing to commence on a live animal.

In my early teens I came across a cheviot ewe on her back, half her udder was eaten off and she was still alive. The gun was sent for and she was put out of her misery. Lounging around isn't the wisest of ideas if you're a sheep. They do look comical when stuck on their backs but rather than laugh roll them over, it'll probably save their lives.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Poodle Clip?

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It is expected that sheep have fleeces. Blackfaced sheep have fairly shaggy fleeces compared to some breeds. The fleece covers the whole body, or is meant to.
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But then there is one like the above which seems to have different wool around it's neck and chest to the remainder of it's body. The different wool is new wool. This years growth of wool. This new wool gives the rise which the shearers require to enable them to get below the fleece (or the old wool) to clip it off.
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Then there is the 'poodle clip' - not a clip at all but again new wool versus old wool. Why? When sheep usually have wool all over? Well the harsh winter is actually the answer.

If left to run wild sheep would naturally shed their wool. They would get lean in the winter or towards lambing time when food was scarcer and lambs drained their mothers bodies. When the spring flush of grass arrived they would get what we call the turn, in other words they would begin to pick up, their physical condition would improve.

Prior to the sheep getting the turn their wool would begin to come loose and quite literally fall off. Once they get the turn the new wool would begin to grow.
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The wool clip has been a lot lighter on many of the harder hill farms this year, due to the harsh winter and the fact sheep lost condition. The loss of condition brought about the natural process of shedding their wool. The above sheep was close to losing all her fleece when she must have got the turn and her physical condition improved, resulting in new wool growth which actually helped hold her little bit of last years wool onto her back. Very often these half fleeces can be tugged off the sheep's back without need for shears, if the new wool growth is strong then the old wool seems to have adhered to it and it is necessary to use the shears.

They do look comical with their bits of fleeces, some seem to wear scarves whilst others carry a saddle, odd ones just have a tuft here and there. Should they be field ewes they can make the ground look awfully untidy when they start shedding their wool as it invariably comes off in bits not a whole fleece as a shearer would take it off and so the fields get lots of bits of wool all over them. The sheep also get itchy as temperatures rise with the result that fences can end up covered in wool which has stuck to the wires as sheep have rubbed against them.

Professional shearers would remove all the new wool as well as the old wool, leaving the sheep bare. Farmers and shepherds will often just remove the old wool which leaves the sheep with an uneven look with 'bald' bits in amongst the new wool. If you clip off the new wool it does not hold together like a fleece would, it just becomes a pile of loose fibres which are no longer required by the wool board and are a nuisance to dispose of so it is easier to leave it on the sheep's back. Interestingly enough the wool all ends up the same length eventually, the sheep does not go through the winter with 'bald' patches.

Monday, 26 July 2010

'Shear hell'

Have any of you ever seen a sheep being shorn? I'm guessing many probably haven't and those that have have probably seen a demonstration or competition at an agricultural show.

The competitions can be well worth watching, shearers competing against one another to see who can clip a sheep in the fastest time. It isn't actually that simple, the quickest to get the wool off is not going to be quaranteed to be the winner. Technique, style and the appearance of the finished article (both fleece and sheep)as well as speed all contribute towards the final score. There is far more to shearing a sheep than meets the eye. As any novice shearer will tell you.
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As the above blackfaced ewes show there can be a fair fleece on a sheep. The wool would naturally drop off if the sheep were in the wild and left to get lean in the winter months. 'Domesticated' sheep are less likely to naturally lose their fleeces and so it is clipped off, either with the electric machines or by hand shears.

If left on the sheeps back the wool would continue to grow and you would eventually be left with a big ball of wool with a little sheep in the middle of it. By shearing the sheep problems such as fly strike can be kept to a minimum and also the fear of sheep getting cast onto their backs (known as kessing in these areas) is less likely.

Many years ago the wool cheque would pay the farm rents, nowadays it takes the wool cheque all its time to pay for the shearers! How times change.
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So, from being plump woolly creatures the ewes suddenly become naked, skinnier beings - just like that! So simple!

It sounds simple really. Grab yourself a sheep, sit it on it's backside, turn on the electric machine and take the wool off, let the sheep away - job done - easy (not)!

You may recall a few months back I mentioned the apprenticeship scheme run by Northumberland National Park who's aim was to encourage some young blood into the hills of Northumberland and give them all a basic grounding in hill shepherding and all that that entails. As the apprentices have found themselves working through the seasons they've naturally arrived at the shearing season and after a two day course run by shearing instructors they were let loose on the farms they are working on and given the opportunity to hone their skills a bit further.

There could well be nothing more soul destroying than learning to clip. With out a doubt you may well find it's a trip to hell and back and maybe even more so for some of these kids, many of whom had never handled a sheep until the start of this year, never mind thought they might ever attempt to clip one.

When attending the shearing course they were faced with mule ewes. This in-bye breed has no horns, fairly short wool and will probably be an average weight of 70 - 80kgs.

First job........ wrestle your sheep to the ground and get it to sit quietly on it's backside. I was flabbergasted to learn that these youngsters attending the course weren't shown how to turn a sheep onto it's backside with the result that it would seem many of them were worn out by the time they had quite literally wrestled with the offending article and got it into the sitting position. Not a good start!
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Anyhow, I was not in attendance so will keep any views of the reported proceedings to myself. Fortunately many of them had the opportunity to go a step further on the farms they were working on and were given the chance to keep practicing. As in the above picture, helpful tips were given in handling the sheep, correcting the stance of the shearer to enable them to control the sheep and from then on it is practice, practice and yet more practice.

Anyone who has ever clipped a sheep will know the feeling, almost heart breaking at times. You just think you're getting the hang of it when with a quick twist or wriggle she's up on her feet and if you're unlucky she's out of the shed in a flash, half a fleece trailing behind her and you in hot persuit. Shearing is not for the faint hearted, a determination and will to succeed is an essential ingredient if you ever wish to become a shearer.

I well recall learning to clip. My boss was 67 years old and I was 18. He possessed the patience of a saint as he taught me to handle the sheep, follow the countours of the body and all the essentials necessary to succeed in getting the wool off her back. I first learnt on hoggs as hogg clipping is the start of the season.

Hoggs are a year old, it is the first time they have been shorn, they have wool all over, and I mean all over, and although lighter than a ewe they are wilder too and there was I, like these apprentices, a total novice, trying my hardest to master the art of clipping (shearing). Should one manage to escape my grip the boss would quietly say "Ye'd better go catch her" no offer of help to run around the yard and pounce on her, just an utterance of "ye'll larn to keep a hold". None of this was made any easier by the fact that my boss, whom I thought was ancient, clipped away merrily beside me making the job look so simple.....

I recall one day a visitor appeared in the clipping shed to have a crack with the boss. I tried to knuckle down and master what seemed like an almost impossible art of removing wool from sheep, sure enough one got away, trailing her fleece behind her with me once again in hot pursuit. I returned to the shed, weary from dragging the beast across the yard, plonked her onto her backside and finally removed the remainder of the offending fleece. On letting her away and turning off the machine the visitor turned to me and said "y'know, that's nae job for a lassie, you ought to stick to wrapping wool"

That remark (quite obviously) has stuck in my head. That day was a turning point for me and my future as a shearer. I saw red. A determination overtook me, a determination to prove the visitor wrong.

Unfortunately the shearing season is a short one, when a full time shepherd there would be the 800 sheep on the farm to clip and that was it until the next year. My first year I would be lucky to clip 50, my second year I could hardly remember where to start and how to do it, by my third year I took part in a sponsored clip and managed to clip just over 40 in an hour - on that note though the machine was hardly ever turned off, there were people catching the sheep and as I let one go another was sat down in exactly the right spot for me to commence clipping it, we changed combs and cutters every 15 minutes so were always running sharp and it is not a true reflection of a clipping day. But I did it, I had proved the visitor wrong!
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And so, back to the apprentices, or for that matter anyone who is attempting to clip a sheep - it looks easy and it does get easier, perseverance, concentration and a will to succeed is all that is required. Taking the wool off is the easy bit, controlling the creature is the challenge. Your legs are important, the sheep is actually held and controlled with the legs, one hand is using the machine, the other hand is not hanging on to the sheep but it is working as hard as the one holding the hand piece as it is keeping the loose skin tight on the sheeps body. At all times the sheep has to be sitting comfortably, if she's not you'll know about it.
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I have always claimed that the ability to shear is in the head. A degree of physical fitness is with out a doubt necessary but there will be times when a mental strength is equally important. As when learning to clip a sheep, the determination and perseverance learnt at the same time will carry many a shearer through in future years. I also believe it is a job you have to enjoy. I personally enjoy the challenge. Every sheep is a challenge, every one you clip you want to turn it out in a respectable manner, try hard not to cut or nick the beast, leave her looking tidy and respectable and be able to stand back at the end of the day and marvel at the naked creatures which only hours ago were all woolly.

In the early days my challenge was to keep a hold of the sheep from start to finish, once mastered the challenge grew to leaving them looking tidy and respectable, it would then progress to clipping 10 an hour, 20 an hour, 30 an hour, 200 a day. And now? Well, my challenge is to keep clipping - simple!

Saturday, 17 July 2010

St Swithins Day

The 15th July is known as St Swithin's Day and rumour has it that should it rain on the said day then it would continue to rain for 40 days and 40 nights, that would take us right through until the 24th August!

It did rain on St Swithin's day. The night previous it absolutely hammered down alongside flashes of lightening and brattles of thunder for good measure. The wind picked up and it continued to rain with the result that Shep had one of those unplanned days off. There was little hope of sheep drying although optimism remained until mid afternoon but there was to be no joy, sheep would not be dry and so a day off was the result with an entry in the diary which read WET.

It is hard to believe but Tarset has basically suffered a drought. Even harder to believe if you live here as Tarset is renowned for attracting rain and yet this year precipitation has been to a minimum. That spring flush of grass we were all so desperately waiting for at lambing time never came, pasture fields have been bare, embarrassingly bare.

Hay fields shut down from stock to allow the grass to grow have also been struggling, the crops look poor and no one has bitten the bullet and cut any down as yet. This time last year the hay and silage season was well under way but not this year and now there is a hold up due to the weather. The chances of the crops growing much more now are slim and the feeding quality of them will soon begin to deteriorate.

So, bare pastures, poor crops in hay fields - no grass, except that is for the hill ground. Once the hill ground got warmed up with the heatwave we experienced in late May and early June the grass took off. The hill ground is mostly peaty around these parts and so retains the moisture well with the result that a drought and hot spell really helped it. Hill sheep have been doing very well, as have their lambs which is a god send after the harsh winter and spring which they experienced.

It has been quite a pleasure to experience a heatwave and has definitely made the shearing season a great deal easier if not a tad sweaty, Shep was getting to the stage that I never considered it may rain and hold you back, came as a bit of a shock when it did. Not only did it rain but it absolutely hammered down and on St Swithin's day at that.

Seemingly this St Swithin fella died centuries ago and wished to be buried outside where he could have the rain fall on him. For all he was dead, and presumably would be taking very little hurt as a lifeless corpse, some kindly souls took pity on his remains, they that had been left under the soil to be rained upon, and decided to move them and give them an indoor burial. St Swithin must have been watching from some cloud somewhere and took umbridge, to show his disquiet there was apparently a great downpour, which lasted for forty days and nights and commenced on the day his body was moved indoors - the 15th July!!

All this is hearsay coz believe you mean I most definitely was not around to witness the event and neither was anyone else I know of, so it is just another piece of good old British folklore and one which I truly hope isn't correct coz I still have quite a few sheep to clip yet, anyhow, Falstone Show is on the 21st August and we really don't want it to rain on that day, do we?

Should it continue to rain in the manner that it has done over the past few days there may well be cause to commence building an ark, in the meantime it is quite refreshing to see the pastures freshen up, the grass is looking greener and possibly may have grown some. Water courses are filling again and stock which previously were struggling to find water are now getting it 'on tap'. The rain has done no harm whatsoever. Lets just hope it remembers to stop and gives the farmers a decent opportunity to gather their winter fodder.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010


Rothbury, Northumberland. A name of a market town not far from Tarset which has been the focus of media attention for the past week. To Shep Rothbury holds many fond memories due to the fact that prior to 2001 it was home to one of the main auction marts for hill sheep.
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Sheep would travel from the Coquet, Breamish, College valleys as well as the Rede and North Tyne to be sold at Rothbury Mart. Rothbury alongside Bellingham Mart was one of the mainstays for traditional hill sheep.

Shep well remembers heading for Rothbury Mart (twenty seven years ago this back end)for the very first time. It was a magical place lying down a steep bank with the River Coquet running at the back of the pens. The river could be crossed on a good day by stepping stones as a short cut up into the town, a town which boasted a shoe shop where good old herds boots could still be purchased, also a hardware shop where everything from fire grates to clothes pegs, pick handles to dog whistles could be acquired.
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The draft ewe sale at Rothbury Mart was a sociable day, held the same week as the sale at Bellingham it always meant two days away to the marts that week as you wouldn't like to miss anything. We had no warning that the mart would close down. The foot and mouth outbreak of 2001 saw many changes to farming and the traditions, Rothbury Mart was one of these and no longer do the pens echo with the sounds of sheep and cattle, men and dogs. From that first visit to Rothbury Mart on the ewe sale day Shep was to be seen there every year until it's demise.
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The ring at Rothbury was a sight to behold when filled with large flocks of draft ewes from the out-bye farms, it wasn't unheard of to have many entries of 100+ sheep going through the ring at once, often put under the hammer as 'sold to cut', allowing the buyer to choose to buy as many as he wished. For instance is 150 were in the ring at one go and the buyer only wished to have sixty then on the drop of the gavel he would let it be known he only required sixty of the beasts, these would be the first sixty to run out of the ring, the remaining ninety would be put up for sale again, hopefully at the price already offered for them and often for a pound or two more.

It was often said the first cut was the best, mainly because it was thought these were the fittest and liveliest ones which would just about knock the gate man over in their haste to get out of the ring. The 'last losser' would be given the opportunity by the auctioneer to stand by his last bid to resume the bidding on the sheep, if he was lucky no one else would 'come in' and bid against him.

Shep's first outing to Rothbury Mart was not without incident. Being the new kid on the block I found it quite daunting. After one or two questioning "Wae's that then?" "Nivver seen hor around afore" it seemed that everyone knew my breeding, full life history and quite probably my vital statistics as well, where as I knew hardly a soul, many were fresh faces to me as I was well away from my home patch having only just taken up a shepherding post in the area, I could hardly remember who was Jock or Willie, let alone where they came from and spent most of the day feeling slightly awkward and most probably either grinning or scowling at everyone.

My discomfort wasn't helped by the fact we had to eat. Tradition has it that your boss takes you for dinner, you're his employ and he feeds you. Fine by me.

And so we headed to the bait cabin (canteen to posh folks). The bait cabin was a tin hut, with earthern floor, rickletty tables and forms (benches) or the odd chair to sit on. The menu was pie and peas or.... pie and peas. I thought it wise to request pie and peas.

I detest mushy peas! In fact I detest them with a vengeance. However I was prepared to hold my nose and get them down, not liking to lose face over something quite so churlish as what seemed like a plate full of mushy peas which were obviously hiding the pie.

If only life could have been so simple, maybe it was some sort of inauguration ritual, I really don't know but I soon learnt to laugh at myself.

Boss and I sat down at a table with our luke warm plates of pie and peas. I had taken the end of a form whilst the boss sat opposite. A crack (conversation) ensued with the farmer on the other end of the form to me, I couldn't recall whether he was a Willie or a Jock, Tom or a Bob but not to worry my boss knew him well and the crack flowed whilst I looked at my quickly cooling plate and braced myself to commence dining.

I had managed a couple of mouthfuls of the green goo when I rested my elbow on the table - bad idea! The table must have been three legged, either that or the earth floor was terribly uneven, my plate was heading for my lap. As I frantically tried to prevent it from reaching it's destination there was a cheery "I'm off then" from the other end of the form as the farmer rose to leave.

Oh, Oh........ life took a downwards spiral, as did the plate full of green goo. Ever been on a see saw? The effect of the farmer standing up saw his side of the form rise upwards as mine tipped away downwards, along with myself, my plate and my pride.

Guess that's one way to get out of eating pie and peas, just wear them instead! I turned down my bosses kind offer of another plate full whilst trying desperately to scrape the offending mess off my jeans and boots. It was a strong learning curve - never sit on the end of a form!
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As said at the off set, Rothbury holds many warm memories another date in the farming calendar now lost, another tradition gone but the memories hold strong.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Knocking some sense in

My mother would often say she wished she could knock some sense in to me, most probably because she would have liked me to do something more ladylike with my life, or maybe she just wished to have had a more co-operative and amiable child. Who knows? But to date no sense has ever managed to get knocked into me.

And now even the sheep are trying........

Farmers are dogged with health and safety rules, all manner of machines have to be properly protected, electrical currents checked, medicines held under lock and key, ladders firmly secured, courses to attend to make one aware of the dangers on the farm and yet there is the unpredictability of livestock. The health and safety officers on the prowl don't even give the livestock a second glance (thankfully).

Shep was once required to fill in a risk assessment form for working on a particular farm, I humphed at the idea - where on earth would you start? I was told it was necessary, especially if I wished to continue working on this particular farm, it was an obligation and would only take a minute or two......... Umm!

Twenty pages later and it was requested that I stop. Okay I admit the pet lip had come out and I went to town on the job. The first entry was travelling to the job and watching out for a sheep crossing the unfenced road. The second entry was alighting from the vehicle and ensuring the farm dog didn't bite you and so it went along the same vein until the pen was removed from my hand. I mean, common sense for heavens sake - where on earth do you start with the hidden dangers of farm and livestock work?

As with the past few weeks, in fact my entire working lifetime, them there animals that I work with will get you one way or another no matter how vigilant you are, but managing to knock any sense in is a different matter!

The first incident this shearing time was in actual fact almost a full month prior to the second incident, both very similar and both leaving me seeing stars, in actual fact I think I saw the whole galaxy the second time!

Shearing sheep. Easy really, you grab them, sit them on their backsides, turn on the machine and remove the wool then let them go. Whilst doing this you bear in mind that they might kick, wriggle, bite, try to tip you upside down, kick the hand piece out of your hand, stick their horns in places you'd sooner they didn't and generally try to maim you if they got but half a chance. Your destination is in your hands, handle them right and if luck is with you all will be well, and so it is.

Except...... sometimes things go wrong.

There were two of us clipping and the other shearer had clipped his sheep and let it away. Just at the point of impact I caught sight of a sheep out of the corner of my eye. Bent over and concentrating on the job in hand the loose sheep had seemingly tried to spring board over this obstacle which was in it's way. I happened to be the obstacle and the sheep got it's judgement wrong!

First I knew of the whole escapade was one hell of a weight landing on my head, followed by a crunching sound, which left me in a prone position on top of the sheep I was shearing.The quick thinking of those around me had the machine turned off in a flash before any damage could be done. Concern soon turned to laughter as is oft the case in these situations and I took five in an attempt to get my focusing back in order.

Now you would think I would have some sense knocked into me and learnt by my mistakes, except in all fairness it wasn't my mistake it was just one of those things, the joys of working with livestock!

Almost a month later and I find myself in the same position, except I had even less idea of what had happened this time. Again going about my business, clipping away merrily, totally oblivious to the outside world when I received one hell of a thump on the top of my head. I was aware that the hand piece had flown out of my hand and my head hurt but other than that I was clueless as to the escapade. Again I was left lying on top of the sheep I was attempting to clip and someone had the sense to turn the machine off. I saw a pair of feet and what seemed like a very distant voice as someone offered to finish clipping my sheep. I'm made of tougher stuff than that and finished the critter myself, although I seemed to have little control of my limbs and my strength seemed to be sapped.

I took five. Unfortunately there was a lot of staff on hand that day and they seemed concerned as to my welfare. Not being one for a great deal of fuss I resumed clipping, there were only a dozen or so left to do before the dinner break which was fortunate as I have to admit I felt woozy and was frustrated at my lack of strength and the fact my mobility and co-ordination seemed to have gone haywire.

The stop for lunch saw me rally and all was well. There were various accounts but seemingly a sheep went over me, it may have hit me or it may not have but it took the hand piece out of my hand which swung in the air and it was the cable of the machine which clobbered me on the head. All sounded rather pathetic I thought for the amount of grief it seemed to cause me.

Nothing short of a miracle that on both occasions no damage was caused to the machine or hand piece. Combs easily break when the hand piece is sent flying out of your hand - but hey! I was lucky!

Was any sense knocked in? Not at all, even the sheep can't manage that one!
As for health and safety? Well, it boils down to commonsense doesn't it, work with livestock and you'll occasionally have cause for an accident, if you're fortunate enough to have others around you they'll be quick witted enough to keep any damage to the minimum. Should you be working alone you've just got to keep your wits about you and hope for the best. No amount of form filling is going to resolve that one.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Doggy Dilemma

You may recall Glen won a red rosette (first prize) at Twicey Show, even though I had concerns regarding a swelling on his face, he won £6 prize money and believe you me it went no way towards paying the vets bills, it may have covered the cost of diesel on one journey to the vets but that would be all.

Poor Glen, he does seem to have some bad luck. He was off the stot (under the weather) during the winter with lameness and a tooth abscess then there he was at the start of the summer swelling up once again.

Shep decided it would be a tooth abscess which was causing him bother and so self administered sheep penicillin to the fella for a few days until the swelling went down. Nothing quite like a course of antibiotics to solve the problem. Life was looking up - until........

Both Moss and Glen had been out on a three hour hill gather arriving home weary and happy until Glens face began to swell, and swell, and swell. By late evening he was looking far more swollen than he had previously before I had solved his problem.

By morning his eye was almost swollen shut and he was a sad lad. I had to head for Scotland shearing soon after 7am and left him behind with instructions to the other half that I would be ringing the vet and trying to resolve the problem one way or another.

There were no appointments available that evening but he got squeezed in, received stronger antibiotic injections and sent home with pills and a further appointment for x-rays.

Unfortunately for him his face continued to swell, only on the one side, but he was beginning to look an awful mess. Even worse he went off his food, not even interested in anything dead and rancid - not good. The first time in his lifetime that he went off his food - life must be bad!

On the Friday night bloody goo started to run out of his mouth and my god did it stink. Shep is well used to disgusting smells but this made my stomach want to turn - ugh, it was 'orrible. At least I knew that what ever 'it' was 'it' had burst and was obviously draining. By the time he went in for his appointment on the Tuesday his face looked a great deal better and he was feeding again.

However, that wasn't the end of the story. He had a full day at the vets after having undergone dental treatment, not only a tooth removed but a hole drilled into his jaw bone to help remove the infection, also a hole from the outside of his face to add to the draining process. The whole thing has almost put me off going to the dentist I can tell you!!

More antibiotics were to be taken and a further appointment to check he was alive and kicking was booked and full rest was the order of the day. He rested fine on the day after his operation, left lying in the garden whilst I clipped sheep on this farm I live on. The same the second day, he was left to lie quiet in the garden, only to be found in the sheep pens doing what he likes best, obviously he thought he was feeling a great deal better!! The Saturday saw him working hard and chasing sheep onto a clipping trailer, however, after dinner he said 'no'. Again out of character for the dog but he knows better than anyone when he's had enough and it was just a few days from his operation. I took him at his word and he was happy to lie with the pup and watch the proceedings from a safe distance.

Hopefully all is now well, ten days since his day with the vets and his face looks normal, he is behaving normally and is raring to go. Shep has to clip 260 sheep to cover the cost of the bill, which is no great hardship, Shep likes clipping sheep!

As for the course of sheep penicillin Shep had been injecting Glen with? Well, I'm told I did a good job of clearing up the infection but I didn't remove the cause which just meant the infection could return - good try though!

I'm sure this dog has a fetish for the vets, they love to see him, tell me he's one of their favourite dogs! I think they make such a fuss of him he has to find an excuse to go back and visit them every now and again. Let's just hope by having his jaw bone drilled he's learnt his lesson and decided they're not as nice as he first thought.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Shearing - or not?

Now they say a change is as good as a rest, there could well be some truth in that. A 'phone call was received from a local farmer requesting assistance as his clipping gang were due in a day or two, on telling him I'd give him a day he followed that up by saying "it'll be like a holiday for you"!

Having been clipping myself now for a week or two and finding myself chewing away over the past few days on sheep which weren't really fit for clipping - some were lacking in rise which makes getting the wool off a slow and tedious job - I found myself actually looking forward to a 'holiday'.

Fighting with sheep and wool, sticky wool which was well adhered to the sheep and really didn't wish to be removed just yet, I found my spirits were lifted at the thought of a change of scenery, finding myself on the other side of the clipping boards, wrapping wool and fetching sheep forward. Like they say, a change is as good as a rest.
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It was interesting viewing the procedure from a different angle, having a bit of a crack and time to quickly sneak a few snapshots. I felt quite refreshed watching the lads with sweat dripping off their nose and chin ends, have to say I was quite warm but never needed to reach for the towel. The grunts and groans that came out of them occasionally as a sheeps foot made purchase on the shearers body or an awkward beast caused grief and frustration made me feel even better in myself as I merrily wrapped the fleeces and went about my business.
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My view really was different to what I am accustomed to as I was working at the back of the shearing trailer, with only a sheeps head to view as it waited patiently for it's turn to be cowped (tipped) at the shearers feet to be clipped. This blue faced leicester was a patient soul, there were a couple which managed to jump the shearers door which resulted in me running to the front to help contain the beast before it ran away in a cloud of dust to join all its mates which had already been clipped.
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I was truly seeing the job from a different angle, not often I find myself at eye level with the sheep being clipped, unless of course I've ended up on my backside and sheep and self have an eyeball to eyeball, even then the view is different to the above and a great deal more stressful!
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Kale and Moss found themselves tied up to a tractor, out of harms way but in a position where they could view the proceedings. Glen was infront of the trailer assisting with filling the pen and keeping the sheep running forward for the shearers, a job which Moss found himself doing in the afternoon whilst Glen took a well earned rest.
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This Swaledale tup was almost shorn and soon the wool would be passed through to be dealt with on my side of the trailer.
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Difficult to tell but the wool is off and the tup is about to be released,to run out of the shed and join the other naked souls waiting outside in the sunshine.
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A pile of wool is all that is left to show a sheep was once sitting there being shorn.
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Suddenly I get a face full of wool as the shearer kicks the fleece under the race where the sheep are patiently waiting for their hair cut, as he kicks the fleece under with one foot he has the other foot already on the sliding door of the sheep race preparing to get the next one out and clip it - no time wasted.
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There really is no time wasted, as I'm messing about taking pictures the farmer grabs the fleece and gets it wrapped, there will be another fleece turning up in no time so it's necessary to keep on top of the job. Camera was put away and I concentrated on the job in hand.

It was a grand sociable day, one of the shearers started his career with me many years ago and there was much to catch up on along with some leg pulling and friendly banter. A change was indeed as good as a rest, my 'holiday' was appreciated but it did also make me realise just how much I enjoy clipping and for the time being at least I am mebbes happiest on the other side of the boards, although keeping up with these lads would have been a challenge, I have my own pace!