Thursday, 31 March 2011

Udder locking

Strange name. Have to say don't know where it originates as it isn't actually a self explanatory name. Udder locking is basically the removal of wool around the udder.
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Years back I used to udderlock all the gimmers prior to lambing time. Gimmers are the young sheep which are to have their first lambs. They were clipped earlier than the ewe flock when they were known as a hogg and as such they generally carry a heavier fleece. Due to the gimmers having a heavier fleece the wool on their tummies is heavier and shaggier too, their bags (udders) can often be smaller than a ewes bag and if it is tucked away amongst a lot of wool the lambs can sometimes struggle to find the tit (teat) when going in for their first suck. For this reason they found themselves udderlocked. Present day practices don't often see this being done until the problem should arise, when found with a hungry lamb a sheep may find itself being udderlocked prior to latching the lamb on for a suck.
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The wool is gripped in the hand near to the sheeps skin, the other hand keeps the skin tight by pulling down in the opposite direction to the direction that the wool is being ploated (plucked/pulled) out.
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The wool both infront and behind the bag is removed by this process.
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S'pose it must feel a tad cold for the sheep but at least when she lambs down the lamb wont find itself sucking away at straggles of wool instead of the tit. Hoggs which lamb in bye can be notorious for having woolly bags and it often pays to give them a bit of an udder lock. All breeds vary tho', the blackfaced hill breed as shown here does have a shaggy coat whereas the likes of your cheviot has a denser coat and is less likely to have to be udderlocked. Mule hoggs which have been bred from the blackie ewe can tend to be shaggy underneath and these hoggs inparticular can sometimes require udderlocking.
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The main reason these sheep found themselves being udderlocked was due to the fact that they all needed turning to have their feet sorted, they were three weeks off lambing at the time and it just seemed like a good idea to have their bags trimmed whilst we were doing feet, after all, it only takes a few seconds and the wool that was removed came in very handy for cleaning their feet out prior to foot trimming.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Cheviots again

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Shep's been at it again - getting a cheviot fix! (South Country Cheviots of course!) Yup, headed up over the border to see to these white woolly characters, they didn't disapoint and it was good to catch up with them, even though I'll be in their company for a full 6 weeks before so very long.

The beginning of April will see Tarset exhale a sigh of relief as Shep departs and heads north for my annual 'holiday' in the company of these cheviots on the scotch side of the cheviot hills. Not long now, but in the meantime I was invited up there to put them through the pens and get them innoculated prior to lambing.
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I was pleased to find they are fit, very fit. An exceptionally good cover of flesh on their backs and footy (lively) with it. I had almost forgotten just how lively these little blighters can be. Thankfully they don't have horns or my legs would have been ripped to shreds. They really are something else. Stone mad may sum them up quite well. They have absolutely no respect for man nor beast, permanently hell bent on being wild, boisterous and bolshy. But they do make me smile, infact on occasions through out the day they even raised a laugh.

I just have to take my hat off to their independence, their determination and the sheer spirit which they are possessed with, if I didn't know better I would be tempted to say they are possessed with the devil, however they are far too genuine for that to be the case. There is no doubt about it they are not a placid breed of sheep! If they were cattle they would have me running a mile!

I found myself pondering and grinning to myself on my return journey home. Driving there a minor knee problem caused problems, it was only an issue when I had to use the clutch pedal, on the way home I found the other knee had become a problem, minor and only an issue if I had to use the brake pedal! I recalled the occasion, the ewe refused to be stopped, just as the wicket was being closed in the pens she went straight through me - quite literally, like a ton of sheep meat she just barged on, no respect what so ever for me, I was in her way and would be removed (as indeed I was). The shepherd told me that he believed Cheviots were a young persons breed and recounted entering the house a number of years ago and telling his late wife that whilst attempting to dose the ewes he had found himself both physically and sexually assaulted by the blighters - that's a cheviot for you! They really can be a challenge, but fun with it!!
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Even Moss looks forward to the challenge, he must also like working with the white woolly characters as he was quite a cheerful chap when we took to the hill to help gather them, mebbes he's also looking forward to his 'holiday', pitting his wits against these wild white beasts.

Anyhow, I was really excited to be there and not because I was getting a cheviot fix but because I was there to innoculate them. Some may recall that last year my confidence took a knock, my temper kicked in before despair took over. Lamb Dysentery. A problem which I had thought I'd seen the last of once again reared it's ugly head. A cruel disease in lambs which kills. A disease which is easily prevented with pre lambing innoculating.
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Being an organic flock not all the sheep had been innoculated as it had been deemed unneccesary as some hadn't suffered from dysentery, well the dysentery caught up with those which hadn't been innoculated and the results weren't favourable. But not to worry...... this year they have all been jagged, by myself, I know they are covered, I know that there ought not to be a problem with dysentery this year, I am really excited at the prospect!!

I have to say, with hindsight, I feel quite fortunate to have experienced lamb dysentery as there has been hardly a soul I have spoken to on the subject can remember it. One 82 year old farmer I asked recalled that neighbours had sold up and left a very good farm due to the fact that they had to go around with a wheelbarrow at lambing time to pick up the dead lambs which had died due to dysentery, ironically, 2 years after they had moved on to pastures new a serum was introduced to be given to new born lambs, a fore runner to the pre lambing innoculation used today, a serum which was a turning point in lamb survival, a serum which was two years too late for one particular farmer.
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I drove back over the border and back home, hattered and battered, beaten and bruised, weary but happy. The ewes I'll be lambing are fit and well and full of hell. The countryside is beautiful, the sun shone and the top coat was discarded but most importantly they are innoculated - yipee!

Saturday, 26 March 2011


Hey! It's so exciting - spring has returned once again.
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The scene outside my back door a couple of days back. Definitely spring like! The snowdrops have given a tremendous show this year and are now dying back, the other spring flowering bulbs are coming to the fore.
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Three days this week shep has found herself stripped down to a T shirt, the wellies were even discarded in favour of boots, the leggins also found themselves ditched. Phew! temperatures up to 19 degrees celsius were recorded at my back door (mind the thermometer finds itself in the full sun in the afternoon) I was beginning to wonder whether this was spring or summer we were experiencing.

Life is so much easier, working in the pens without fighting through the clarts or handling wet sheep all day is such a treat. The spring light hitting the surrounding landscape accentuates all the little details and makes the grass appear so much greener - pure bliss! Farmers have been trying to get on with some moorburning whilst the conditions allowed, others have been pre lambing innoculating in pleasant conditions for both man and beast. It has been heaven.

Having said that not everyone seems to share my enthusiasm. Why do many farmers prefer to have their glasses half empty rather than half full??

On enthusing how great the weather has been I have had a variety of replies "Aye, but, March can still throw some muck at us yet",
"she came in like a lamb you know, could well go out like a lion",
"would be grand if it was lambing time, but just see, the weather will turn".
Then there was the factual "Gonna turn cold at the weekend, northerly winds..."

So What? Who cares? Can we not just enjoy this lovely spell of a couple of days spring/summery weather whilst it is here, do we really have to spoil the present with what may be? After all, someday we'll all snuff it (die), do we worry about that? No! we live for today and have the excitement of seeing what tomorrow will bring.

They truly can be a funny breed these farmery folks.

In all fairness to them, the weather is hugely important. Successes and failures can depend on the weather, finances can depend on the weather, the health of stock can depend on the weather. In fact just about everything to do with farming depends on the weather and as I've so often said before there is nothing we can do about the weather other than prepare and battle on. Surely tho' some days we can stand back and thank our lucky stars and appreciate the weather for once rather than always gripe about it. Can't we?

Monday, 21 March 2011

Ticks and prevention

Ticks. Ectoparasites. Little spidery type characters which latch on to warm blooded creatures and suck their blood.

They can be a bane to sheep farmers if you farm in a tick infested area, causing problems to livestock which range from anaemia to actual illnesses, as ticks are capable of passing diseases on also. Fortunately not all hill ground is heavily infested with ticks.

Those who suffer at the hands of ticks try to prevent an infestation. Lambs in particular can suffer heavily should there be a good rise of ticks in the spring but ewes also can fall foul of the tick. Obviously a lamb will be more susceptible due to it being so much smaller and a tick isn't bothered as to whether it latches on to a day old lamb or a five year old sheep, so long as it finds a host it will be happy. By the way that may also be us (can cause Lymes Disease), our dogs, cats....... you name it. Ticks have been proven to have a severe detrimental affect on the survival of grouse.

An immunity does build up in the sheep flocks. Which is where the 'hefted' flock thing comes to the fore, a breed of sheep which has lived on the ground for generations will be less susceptible to the little blighters than stock fetched onto the same ground which have never had any contact with ticks. Many years ago a new tenant went into a farm in the area, the sheep were hefted on to the farm and all was well, however he brought some cattle with him which had never been exposed to ticks before, some died, others suffered and recovered. The tick problem is not one to be taken lightly.

I find it interesting that neighbouring farms, separated with only a wire fence can find one farm with a tick problem and the other without. Ticks live on rough ground, you'll not find them being a problem in normal grassy fields, they like the rough hill ground to live on but all the same, two similar farms and one will have a problem whilst the other doesn't - interesting!

There are two seasons for ticks, spring and autumn. We call it a tick rise. That being when the conditions are right the ticks come out to play, they rise to the occasion so to speak. Crawling out of their cosy homes deep in the tussocks of grass they latch onto the sheep and start gorging themselves. Tiny little orangy red things they soon grow into big fat grey things. Things - not terribly technical but I know what I mean! By tiny I'd say about the size of match head, by big fat things I'd say up to the size of a small grape. (Someday I will try and get a photo of a tick - bear with me!)

The first season for the ticks is the worst, due in main to the affect they can have on young lambs and nursing mothers. The spring rise can come at any time, once the weather warms up the ticks will be wakening and thinking of feeding and breeding. Some years there is barely a rise at all, other years the ticks seem to come out in force, all dependant on the conditions.

Spring dipping used to be the answer to the tick problem. I can recall dipping ewes just prior to lambing time and I mean just prior. It was always deemed best to dip the ewe flock as close to lambing time as possible so as should the stress of being dipped cause them to lamb there would hopefully be a live lamb and a ewe able to feed it. When a full time shepherd I dipped ewes which were heavy in lamb and never came across any problems from doing so although my boss told me he had seen ewes lambing in the draining pens before.

I haven't covered dipping on this blog yet but the sheep find themselves fully immersed in water, they are put through a swim through bath and pushed under the water to ensure their whole bodies get a good soaking, the water contains a diluted dip chemical which adheres to the wool and skin and kills off any ectoparasites present and also prevents others from taking up residence in the future. Dipping is a strenuous time, probably more so on the handlers than on the sheep as sheep are naturally good swimmers. However, having said that it will be stressful on the sheep and especially so when in lamb and hence the reason for dipping as close to lambing time as possible.

Spring dipping soon became history. There was a tick cream came onto the market which I used to use many years ago, every new born lamb was caught up and this cream was smeared in their lisks. The lisk is the area of skin in the 'arm pits' and groin. Ticks prefer areas of skin to latch onto although they will be found in the hair around the face and neck.

Soon tick cream also became history as the pour ons came onto the market. The same pour ons used to treat lice infestation were also available for ticks. These are easily applied along the back of the sheep and cause little stress to the animal at all.

Recently Shep has been busy inoculating pregnant ewes with their pre lambing injection and at the same time treating them for ticks with pour ons. There has been a very odd tick to be found but it is really early enough yet as the weather hasn't quite warmed up and remained warm for long enough to get the little blighters excited. The pour ons will prevent tick infestation for a number of weeks so ought to cover the rise when it comes.

When the ewes were dipped it was found that the lambs naturally picked some of the dip residue up off their mothers fleeces and so rarely got much trouble with ticks due to this. It was also thought that the tick cream kept the ticks off the lambs. However, with the pour ons those who have a real problem with ticks find they have to treat their lambs with in a few days or when they are released back to the hill to prevent an infestation.

So, ewes living on known tick infested ground are finding themselves being applied with a pour on over the coming weeks, they are being prepared for a counter attack against the ticks. Owners of sheep on grouse moors may find the shooting syndicates will pay for the treatment as this aids the management of the grouse. In actual fact, some grouse moors which had had sheep removed have found them being reinstated as a management tool, not just for the grazing purposes but also to try and manage the tick infestation problem - interesting!

Shep doesn't hide the fact that she doesn't like using these pour ons, I take precautions to try and keep the stuff of my skin. I am fully aware that the chemicals disagree with me and try my utmost to keep contact as minimal as possible. So I find myself furious with a product I have been working with recently. Furious enough that I will name it. Dysect.

Dysect is cypemethrin based, a watery solution which is administered by way of an automatic gun, a gun with a T piece with five or six jets. So instead of the single pinstripe down the sheeps back you get five or six finer stripes down the sheeps back. Dysect also seems to be the product on the market at the moment which gives the longest cover for tick infestation. One of the other products which I used for treating lice no longer seems to have the impact on ticks that it used to have on some peoples flocks, probably due to a resistancy with having been used too long without a change of product(chemical ingredient).

I have used this product once before, a couple of years ago in the late spring on a warm day and found the chemical smell of the stuff was almost overpowering. I have now found myself using it again only to find you could hardly use it.

They say a bad workman blames his tools. Well I must be a bad workman.

The pour on seemed to be causing a breakdown in the guns which were being used. A new gun was ordered and duly arrived. The problem persisted. (All pour ons do seem to have an ability of causing guns to 'break' and it always pays to use the gun produced for the specific pour on).

Eventually and after a great deal of frustration it was found that the problem was the actual product itself and not the gun. A large cardboard box held four bottles of dysect which were stored in a farm building, on close inspection of the contents of the bottles it was found that half of the liquid had solidified, the stuff had kinda seperated. These bottles were all standing upright in the cardboard box and the liquid had seperated in the upright position. What I mean is, the solid wasn't at the bottom of the container and the liquid at the top, no the solid was up one side of the upright container and the liquid up the other side.

When the containers were shaken the product turned to a milk shake type subsistency whereas it ought to have been a clear liquid. It was also found to have calcified with small granules getting into the pipe and subsequently the gun and so causing everything to bung up.

All sheep medicine products are labelled, they give you directions on use, how to apply, operator and environmental safety advice and storage instructions. I have copied and pasted the particular directions for this product here Pharmaceutical precautions
Do not store above 25°C.
Store in a dry place.
Store upright in the original container tightly closed in a safe place away from food, drink and animal feedstuffs.
Protect from direct sunlight.
Avoid extremes of temperature.

The dysect I was using was in its original packaging,in the cardboard box it was packaged in,upright, in a farm building which was dry, there was no chance of it being in direct sunlight and as for being above 25degrees.....!! Extremes of temperature?? Definitely not, quite probably a fairly constant temperature of 5 -6 degrees, there wasn't even a frosty night.

The agricultural merchants contacted the manufacturers and were told to sit the container in a bucket of warm water and to store all containers in the house!!

So, the containers went into the house, the following day they went with us to sheep pens out on the hill, yes it was a cool day, no frost but cool. Within half an hour the guns began to play up, the liquid was turning milky, it was difficult to use the guns and apply the correct amount of medicine onto the sheeps backs and patience was wearing exceedingly thin. Strangely enough we didn't have a bucket of warm water on hand, are you menat to wear the bucket on your back with the container in it whilst applying the pour on?

All attempts to keep clear of the product were failing on my behalf. Often the substance was coming out of the guns like a fine mist, far too often the guns were being primed to try and remove airlocks, on a number of occasions the guns had to be taken apart to remove calcified lumps out of the mechanism. This is not a polite thing to say but I was pissed off - well and truly pissed off.

I have spoken to two farmers since who have used this product in the past and the same thing happened to them, so one can only conclude that it wasn't operator error, there is a manufacturers error in there somewhere. I can only hope I don't have to use this stuff again. I would like to think this farmer would complain directly to the manufacturers but I feel sure this wont happen, farmers aren't reknowned for writing letters or getting on the 'phone. Maybe I ought to forward this posting to the manufacturers?

There's one thing for sure, it wont just be the sheep that are covered for tick, lice and ked infestation this spring, the little blighters wont be bothering me either!

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

pregnancy scanning - how did it go?

The scanning season is over for another year. Shep assisted at the first scanning at the end of January but the scanners themselves had been on the roads for weeks, battling through the bad weather to get to farms and scan sheep when many in Tarset had only just put their tups out.

It all depends when your tups are put to the ewes as to when your ewe flock will be scanned The hill flocks are the last to be scanned as they are the latest to lamb.

Shep has attended a number of scannings, some just to assist on the actual day, others to gather beforehand, help at the scanning and the ensuing days. There has been some good crack (conversation) and banter as many hands are on deck to keep sheep forward so fresh faces and fresh stories come to the fore.
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Later in the season foggy days caused problems for gathering, but sheep were found and were gathered.
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Fortunately the burns (streams) were never up (flooded) so bringing sheep across water was never an issue unlike other years.
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Thousands of sheep over the weeks were brought towards home and into the pens ready to be scanned. Shepherds were relieved to find them footy (lively), especially after the poor weather earlier in the winter.
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Whatever the set up on the day, be it indoors, or outdoors, with the scan man in a tent or livestock trailer such as here, all ran smoothly on the day. All systems employed worked well. Plenty of staff and dogs on hand to keep sheep running forward and the job was easily done.

I asked one scanning man what was the most sheep he'd scanned in a day - 6,000+ was the answer!! That was in an 8 hour day! It did happen whilst scanning in New Zealand, the kiwis have good set ups and far more sheep than you'd find in this country. We have flocks, they have mobs! Where we have hundreds on a farm they quite literally have thousands. The scan man went on to say whilst spending 6 weeks in New Zealand he scanned an average of 3,750 sheep per day - wow! He also said it was far easier over there, the sheep are far more docile, there are thousands and thousands on each farm, good handling facilities and you only have to look and see whether or not they are in lamb, whereas in this country the farmers want to know how many lambs the ewes are carrying and so it takes longer to read the results. It was all very interesting tho'!
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There are few times in the year when all the sheep on a farm are to be found in the pens on the same day. These in this photo have all been scanned, the twin and geld marks are on their wool and they are waiting to run up the shedder and have the twins shed off to be kept in the in-bye fields. Many took the opportunity when the sheep were in to dose, innoculate, treat for lice or whatever task was necessary at the time before realising the sheep back to the hill.
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Ewes carrying singles found themselves heading back to their hill ground
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They'll remain out there until lambing time, some will be brought closer to home to be lambed and others will be lambed on the hill.
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Whatever the farm, all sheep were only too pleased to be returned to their home ground and to be left in peace to graze their patch and live their lives away from the hustle and bustle of the pens. Those twin bearing ewes kept in will find themselves receiving sheep cake (supplementary feeding) to ensure their lambs are strong and they themselves are fit enough to rear two lambs. It will take them a while to settle down to being held in an enclosure and for those who have never had feeding before it may take them a while before they consider eating this strange stuff that comes out of a bag (in fact odd ones never do get around to eating the stuff).

I learnt some fascinating facts whilst the scannings were on. Apparently scanning was a British idea. Why oughtn't it be? Well many of the sheep innovations seem to come from either New Zealand or Australia, but not sheep scanning! It came from Edinburgh in Scotland.

Thirty years ago some obsolete NHS (health service) ultra sound scanners were tried out on sheep. It was deemed necessary to sit the sheep on its backside and shave the wool off its lower tummy to allow the probe to be used. After a year or two it was realised that this could easily be done in the standing position and the wool did not need to be removed as the skin in the lisk (groin) gave natural access to the uterus lying inside.

The first scanning probes did not last very long, after having scanned about 500 sheep they were being held together with tape, I suppose they didn't need to be so robust when used under hospital conditions.

The company which produces all the scanning equipment today is still the same company, the same company which supplies our hospitals, the only difference being they have produced a far sturdier model a design which will cope with the hattering it receives from dealing with livestock.

I also learnt that there appears to be very few younger people on scanning. No disrespect to those who are scanning, but the time will come when younger blood will be needed. The drawback has been that those scanning today are well established, many who learnt the trade from the offset. They are experienced, rarely if ever make a mistake and they are also fast. They started off in the job when expectations were low and they learnt as they went along. Anyone wishing to start up now has a lot of catching up to do, it will take a good while to be as good as those going around and farmers now expect their scanning results to be correct, they don't want mistakes, they don't want it to take all day.

Having said that I learnt of one young person who has spent many thousands of pounds and bought himself a scanning machine. He has then asked friends and relations if he could scan their sheep, which he has done slowly and meticulously, even pushing them into the crate himself. He has put a tiny mark on them to signify what he thought they were carrying lamb wise and then he has been present when the 'official' scanning person arrived to scan. He has watched, listened and learnt. Apparently he had done a fairly decent job on those which he had practiced on. There is hope that some young blood may well be going to join the ranks.

So? How did the scannings go? Well all those responsible for sheep flocks were relieved at the end of the day. Those with earlier lambings had had very high percentages and as the weeks went on the lamb numbers dropped.

The hill scannings were better than expected although there will be less lambs on the ground than last year, however there were not too many geld sheep, the lower percentages were due to less twins being present in the sheep. The hill men don't mind that unduly. One is far easier to rear than two, in general they were all relieved that most of their sheep were in lamb. Their nightmares of the bad weather causing their flocks not to be in lamb were unfounded and they can sleep well at nights now. Until that is, lambing time arrives!

Saturday, 12 March 2011

getting in a tizz

Shep is slowly getting into a tizz, now you might not know what that means. Wound up I guess would sum it up well, or mebbes the clinical description would be stressed, although I would say that was probably an exaggerated description of being in a tizz.

In a tizz - quite simple really, a feeling of much to do and not enough time to do it. I wouldn't care, the days are getting longer, there are more hours available to work in, it ought to be easy to get caught up with work and things.....

It's the pre - lambing tizz that is the problem, coupled with unco-operative weather. Rain, gales, snow, sleet, more rain, fog, clarts, you name it! For a few days it did seem like spring was arriving, now it feels like mother nature has changed her mind.

Have to say, there has been some great excitement, I was like an overgrown kid when I heard the skylark for the first time on 16th Feb. "Skylark! Listen. Definitely skylark, there they are look...up there" Caught talking to myself once again, the dogs cocked their heads on one side and stared at me in despair.

Then there was the frogspawn on 23rd February, I jumped off the bike and did a little dance...... the dogs sat back and gave me a quizzical look. I faired no better when I conveyed my excitement to the shepherd I was working with. "Is the other half registered as your carer?" was his reply!

I don't care what the dogs or anyone else thinks, it has been exciting. There has been the first Peewits and Curlew, Oystercatchers on the river side, geese heading south - you name it, the signs of spring were appearing everywhere, life is looking up, spring was springing. Yipee!

February disappeared into history and March arrived. The 'phone kept ringing, work to do. Hoggs to hornburn, sheep in need of their pre lambing inoculating, dosing required, treatments for ticks needed, much to do.

'Tis great, I do like to be kept busy, all was easily manageable before I head north at the end of the month, no need to worry. Until, that is, the weather broke!

Sheep pens are outdoors, hoggs are burnt in the sheep pens, the fire is lit in the sheep pens........ Have you ever tried burning water? Doesn't work too well.

Not to worry, will re-organise the burning and get on with dosing etc., Trouble is many wish to treat their sheep with a preventative pour on against ticks, this is the same sort of pour on used in the treatment of lice. For all it doesn't specifically say on the container that it must be applied onto dry wool most do prefer to do this, so once again it isn't possible to get on and the sheep work is beginning to stack up, time is ticking on........

Shep's getting in a tizz..........

One job which needs doing is I have been asked to head into Scotland and inoculate the sheep which I am to lamb. I am excited at this prospect, not because I'll get a cheviot fix but because I'll know they are inoculated against lamb dysentery, a disease in the lambs which has been a rod to bear over the few years I have lambed this flock. This year they ought to be dysentery free! I really want to get up there and get them done, but then there is everyone else queueing up also!

There are other issues also, ordering and taking delivery of a new fridge freezer. Car repairs. Lambing supplies (chocolate!). Appointments. Letters to write. Phone calls to make. I almost feel snowed under, ironical considering it is actually snowing!

My car is getting weary. Can't expect miracles, it is 16 years old. I like my car, it goes and it stops when asked to, what more could I ask for? It is having some maintenance work done at the moment, apparently it's body is beginning to show it's age and major, expensive rebuilding work will be on the agenda should it try to go through another MOT.

To add to my tizz I decided to go and look at another car.

I know I wont get one like the one I've got, or if I should I'll just have another rust bucket. But my headset likes my car, I'm used to my car and I'd quite like another very similar. Also, I don't want to buy a car for lots of money, you could say I'm mean but also my car is used as a mobile dog kennel, it carries three dogs to and from work everyday. It is a hatchback with the back seats dropped down,it is trashed inside, has an aroma all of its own - a true work horse. Do I want to spend a lot of money on something 'nice' just to trash it? Definitely not!

I happened to see a car advertised which was similar to mine, a few years younger with a reasonable mileage and at a sensible price - almost too good to be true! I rang up about it to find it was at Newcastle, umm, Jarrow in fact, oh! I had to ask where Jarrow was, have heard of it, the Jarrow March and all that. Anyhow, it's near South Shields, umm!

Basically for a country bumpkin like me it seemed a long way away, although it would be fairer to say it was somewhere I'd never been to before and never really wanted to - in the town. Never mind, beggars can't be choosers.

Eventually, we both found ourselves held up with the weather, a quick 'phone call confirmed the car was still for sale and off we headed. No sat navs just a good old fashioned map and an address. I have to say I don't like towns or cities or in fact anywhere where there are houses, traffic and people.

My fingernails were about chewed off by the time we arrived at our destination and I wasn't doing the driving! For once my navigational skills didn't let me down either - must be a good omen!

It wasn't. The car wasn't keen on starting (at least my rust bucket does!), when it did start a cloud of black smoke rose from the engine, matched by the black smoke coming out of the exhaust. Umm..... back to plan A (I do like my car!!)

Four hours from leaving home we returned, having driven through snow at this end, fog in the middle and rain in town we'd been, turned around and come back with nothing to show for our little gander.

Shep was feeling well and truly tizzed and needed to get out into the open somewhere, having been couped up in a car for hours and stuck in town on concrete streets with traffic and people I needed to head into an open space and leave the world behind, go back into my world.

The weather was poor, snow was still lying, it was by now raining and foggy with it, dogs and I jumped into the car and without realising where we were headed found ourselves on the shores of Kielder Reservoir. Strange really, it is on our doorsteps but not a place I ever really visit - I must have been in a tizz!

Two hours later and I felt I could return to civilisation. My choice had been a good one, on such a dank day there was no one wandering about. Dogs and I had the walks to ourselves and we reveled in the peace and beauty of the place.

I found myself transfixed, I'd ground to a halt at a puddle. Not any old puddle you understand, this was a big puddle. A swampy area which had flooded and covered the footpath, there were trees overhanging the area and rushes and mossy humps showing up through the water. I had haltered due to the path being immersed in water and then I ended up in a spell. It was the sound which held me under a spell.

One of those magical moments, the sort that bring you back from somewhere you hadn't enjoyed being. The drips of the rain hitting the puddle, accompanied with the drips which were accumulating and then dropping off the trees. There was music. Every drip or drop produced a slightly different tone, some threw up bubbles which produced a different sound again. I stood there spellbound - an orchestral puddle - amazing!

I was beginning to wonder if the music could be recorded, could you play around with the recording and come up with some wonderful, natural mix of music? But was it not necessary to have the visual also? The drops hitting the surface causing ringlets, mini waves which rippled gently across the surface before breaking into one another before finally dying as others were formed?

My trance was finally broken, the dogs had decided there must be a problem and were pushing there noses into my legs, looking at me questioningly. The shepherds remark "Is your other half registered as your carer?" came into my head and I laughed and we went on our way.

A puddle managed to calm my feeling of tizziness, I am now a day closer to heading off lambing, but my sanity (some would question that I have ever been sane)has returned, the hubbub of traffic, streets and people is a distant memory, the future work loads will pan out one way or the other - I've returned to my world!!

Monday, 7 March 2011

Hard at work

The dogs have had a busy time lately, much gathering to do for the scannings and then all the work in the sheep pens driving sheep forward to be scanned.

Moss has been doing most of the gathering. Glen being older and suffering from 'pains' finds himself left out of the big hill gathers, much to Moss' pleasure as he is far happier if he has you all to himself and doesn't have to share your attentions with one of the others.

Glen however comes to the fore when pen work is on the agenda. Tough old cookie that he is he does like to keep the sheep running forward on scanning and clipping days.
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The pair of them are seen here driving sheep into the sheep pens.
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They don't pussy foot around through the clarts (mud), it doesn't seem to bother them unduly, they have their minds on the job in hand and seem to be oblivious to whatever the conditions are on the day.
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Soon the pens are jam packed full of sheep all waiting their turn to head into the scanning crate
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They queue up patiently (or ought that be impatiently?) awaiting their turn. However, they're not always totally willing to walk into the crate, usually hopeful of escaping back off to the hill somewhere.

Now I could battle with these sheep in a physical manner, I could grab them and haul them into the crate or I could use 'sheep sense' and find a simpler solution. I always prefer the simpler solution.

A dog at the back of the pen and you at the front where the sheep are to run up the race. The sheep don't want to go to the back of the pen coz there's a dog there, so as you walk towards them they think they can see an escape route past you and head for it, by the time they've realised they've run into the race it is too late and they are trapped - crafty! Without the dog at the back of the pen you might well find the sheep are crowding to the back and not as keen to run past you and in the direction you want them to - I always opt for a dog in the pen!

It's a hard day for the dogs working the pens, they have to keep their wits about them, the sheep are bigger than they are, heavier also. The dogs have to shoot past the sheep and encourage them to move on, sometimes the sheep will try to resist and offer to butt the dogs, the dogs will retaliate and teach the sheep to show some respect.
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For all Glen loves the job his mobility can become an issue, he starts the day jumping between pens of sheep, naturally knowing which pen full have to be moved next and being their like a flash to do the job, as the day wears on he slows down and struggles to jump anywhere.

I have noticed that should a tup (ram/male sheep) be present in the pens old Glen will exit the pen. He has never shown fear towards anything to date and I can only presume that his mobility is his issue, should the tup go for him (which they can be prone to do) Glen probably feels he's no longer able to physically and successfully stand up to the beast. Which is fine by me. An injured dog is of little use and only causes great concern. Moss' grandfather suffered a cracked shoulder when a tup refused to turn and rammed and butted the dog up against a stone wall, since that day I have always erred on caution where truly bolshy sheep are concerned. I would sooner call a dog off and do the job myself than see them get hurt.

As said it is a long hard day for the dogs, tousling with sheep all day. Occasionally sheep run over the top of the dogs in a bid to 'escape', others face the dogs showing resistance and defiance, but they never win, the dogs always come out on top!
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At the end of the day I had two gay mucky, tired, but happy dogs. A quick run down to the burn (stream) to get the rough of the muck off and home we'd head.

Did I hear someone ask where Kale was? Well, it all depends on how much time I have on my hands, some days he'd be at the hill with Moss, getting an opportunity to stretch his legs but riding on, or tied to, the bike when real sheep work had to be done. On scanning days he'd be tied up out of the way as there is no time on hand to keep an eye on a keen young dog and make sure he wasn't learning bad habits or getting up to mischief. Don't worry tho' he was there or there abouts, his time will come!