Thursday 30 June 2011

Bright Days!

The weather picked up, sunshine became the order of the day and the shearing got into full swing.
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On a recent gather I was surprised to see there were still some remnants of cotton grass hanging around. It seems a long time since lambing time and there was a tremendous show of cotton grass on the little bit of wet ground out on the hill which I lambed on, on returning to the North Tyne I did find the cotton grass disapointing, no where near as heavy a crop as over the border. Just last week early one morning I came across this little heap of the stuff whilst gathering, there is still some hanging on when I thought the season was over.
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The bell heather is also flowering, it comes out earlier in the year than the heather we are accustomed too which covers our hillsides with a purple blanket in August/September time. A pleasure to see and appreciate on an early summers morning with the sun just beginning to throw it's heat at us.

The gathering was for lamb marking and drawing the hoggs off ready to be shorn. This is one of the most difficult gathers of the year as the lambs have never been disturbed in this fashion before. They are still young and this is their first experience of being gathered. A panic can set in as some of them lose their mothers (I recall when very little I lost my mother in a supermarket, I too began to panic!).

The sheep are set down from the hill and find themselves grouping up untill all the flock are held together in one big bunch, this is when the panic really begins to set in. The shepherd becomes aware of more lambs at the back of the bunch of sheep than there are ewes. These lambs may well try to break back to their hill ground, the area where they last saw their mother. They are wild, spring and bounce around and can run at one heck of a speed. The answer is to keep the pressure on them. Keep the dogs pushing the sheep on and holding them in a bunch, relax your guard and you may find many lambs broken away from the main flock, running for their lives and showing little respect for a dog. Wildlife programmes on the telly which show gazelles jumping, twisting and bounding to escape their hunters would best describe the way a lamb is capable of reacting, they can truly test the stamina and patience of the dogs.
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The above photo shows ewes and lambs held in a bunch. These were the sheep we had been gathering. Towards the end of the gather (just as the lambs are beginning to mis mother) they had to cross a burn, in the process a number of lambs got left behind and broke away from the crowd. The best way to try and get everything reunited was to bring the sheep back to the burn and hope the lambs could be driven to them. So, the above photo is of the flock being turned back to the handful of wayward lambs on the opposite banking. It would have been ideal to have some sheep cross back over the water to help gather the lambs up, however, with two men and three dogs on the opposite bank the sheep were not going to volunteer that, the best I could do was hold them up whilst the other staff battled on with frightened lambs. Eventually all was well, lambs were reunited with the rest of the flock.

The sun was well risen, the heat was up and dogs were allowed to wallow in the burn to cool off and drink before resuming the journey towards the pens.