Saturday, 30 July 2011

Glens misdemeanors

Glen - the sheepdog, you should know the fella by now, he keeps getting posts written about himself every now and again. You may recall that last summer he managed to win a red rossette at the twicey show even though he had a swollen face which later ran into vets bills for some pretty serious dentistry work.

He trotted along to the twicey show again this year, was entered in the class titled "the best looking collie dog" and hey presto! once again he won the red (1st prize) rossette which is no mean feat for a dog clocking on 11 year old and with half his teeth missing, not to mention a slightly bent leg! The show were even kinder this year and split the class between dogs and bitches which then meant good ol' Glen had to strut his stuff against the first prize bitch to try and take the championship.

Fortunately for him and unfortunately for her she was coming in heat, me being wise I decided to follow her around the ring which had Glen up on his toes, showing his best side and trying to woo the female, she wasn't too impressed with the idea and tucked her tail tight between her legs, glowered at him and spent her time looking for the exit route. Believe it or not but he won the Championship rossette - bless him!
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I have to say he seemed quite pleased with his little self but couldn't quite understand why he wasn't allowed to get to know the bitch dog a little bit better!

There's no doubt he is a very bonny dog and considering his age he doesn't show it, not a grey hair to be seen (not like some of us!)Infact Glen is more than just a bonny dog, he's one of the kindest natured dogs I've ever had, a true gent, not an ounce of bad in him unless it's dead and rancid or female and on heat. Over the years he has also proven to be one of the most expensive dogs I've ever had. The accountant has even queried the vets bills although I quickly explain and do remind him that he is still working and as such is still a business expense.

This year was looking up. Other than his daily medication for arthritis the dog hadn't incurred any other costs - amazing! That is until he decided to misbehave.

At lambing time he was bequethed to the other half. I had Moss, top dog, and of course the little whipper snapper Kale to contend with, the logistics of Glen as well was all too much so he was left at home to keep an eye on the other half, or was it the other way around? Anyhow, he became tractor dog until I returned when he decided he really was a sheep dog and would sooner travel with me and the other two.

Odd days he would be left behind with his new 'owner' and on one of these occasions he had found himself barred up in the dog run. However, life wasn't that simple, the other half found he had vanished, after first ripping up the weld mesh of the dog run. A 'phone call received from a farmer a few miles up the road soon had him tracked down. Bloodied and lame he was collected and returned to where he belonged.

A car had passed him on the road, apparently going like the clappers and it was presumed by the driver that the dog may have been hit by a vehicle as his white bib had quite a pinkish/reddish hue about it, he was also lame. The car driver very kindly offered Glen a lift and took him to the nearest farm which fortunately was one we work on and the dog was recognised.

No. he didn't get a trip down to the vets, he likes those vets far too much in my mind, anyhow, he might have won £6 prize money but that wasn't even going to pay to repair the dog run let alone a trip to the vets. A thorough inspection of his battered body showed that it wasn't battered at all but all totally self inflicted, bloodied mouth and sore feet from tugging at the weld mesh. Upon my return I got a sheepish wag of the tail, when I scolded him and threatened him with a gun I got a bigger wag of the tail! huh! them dogs have just about got the upper hand on me!

The other half got scolded as well for not looking after his dog properly, after all he was always an angel in my care!

The incident was put behind us and Glen was put to work for the next few weeks, he loves penning sheep and is very useful at clipping time, except he hasn't yet learnt how to open gates, otherwise he will work his butt off in the pens keeping sheep forward all day to be clipped.
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I kept reminding him he had bills to pay and needed to work harder, of course I may as well have been talking in kiswahili or bangladeshi coz he would just wag his tail and take any words as words of endearment - what it must be to be so easily pleased!

Many days he would be filthy, covered in sheep shit and clarts from running back and forwards on concrete pens, where possible he was always taken down to the burn at the end of the day to at least get the rough of it off his coat.
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The only dog I've ever had who loves swimming, he is at least easily encouraged to enter water and as he now lives in the house it does pay to get him cleaned off a bit.

Eventually the dog run was repaired and all was looking well when once again Glen took a funny turn. The four of us were actually working at the farm which had taken Glen in after he was picked up on the road, I say four of us were working........ Glen had been left in the car whilst Moss and I, with Kale trotting along on a learning curve, brought sheep in to the pens. Once in the pens Glen appeared. Oh! It wasn't really a problem and I just presumed that I'd left the window of the car too far down and he'd jumped out (although he has never jumped out of a car window before)

A little later and the farmer came up from the buildings and asked if I'd wanted air conditioning in my car. A puzzled look and a frown made him laugh as he explained the drivers door window was shattered.

It was no joke, good old Glen had gone one further and managed to smash the window. A dog who has travelled in a car all his life, never attempted to escape and here he was, as happy as a sand boy in the sheep pens leaving carnage behind him. !?**?**/! Aargh...........! I got home at night and ranted to the other half "YOUR dog......... he was never like that when he was MY dog!"

An online trip to a scrap yard eventually tracked down a replacement window which other half and nephew fitted and dog was back out of the dog house. Until....... he finally won and got a trip down to the vets - Aargh!

Don't worry, there's nothing wrong with him. I've raided his piggy bank and paid for the privelege of being told his is very well. Unfortunately new regulations saw him unable to receive his repeat prescription for his anti inflammatory painkiller until he had had a check up. Seemingly this is a new policy with animals checked every six months. The vets and receptionists were so pleased to see him, after all he did spend a lot of time in their care a few years back and like everyone else who meets him, they do like him.

A few minutes with a vet who sounded his heart and told him what a lovely dog he was and off we went, medicine in hand and a few quid lighter in the pocket. The old bugger is worth it tho' but I do keep warning him that a bullet would be a lot cheaper, he just wags his tail!

Thursday, 28 July 2011

clipping days

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Kale is seen here surveying the view on an early morning gather, the mist is just beginning to lift and the sheep away in the distance are heading in, having been whistled of and some directed with the dogs they know what the score is and are beginning to rake themselves in to lower ground.

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Once we are happy that all the sheep have set themselves in to the lower ground they are then bunched together and driven towards the steading (farmyard)being steered by dogs which are flanking either side of the sheep and some which are pushing on behind the flock.

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Once in the sheep pens the flock finds itself being shed off from one another. Lambs are shed in one direction, ewes another and the gimmers (clipped hoggs) run in another direction. To do this they run up a race and hinged swinging shedding gates can change the direction the sheep have to run enabling the shepherd to seperate off whatever he wants in any of three directions. Right, left or straight on. All hill farms have shedding races, when handling big numbers of sheep you don't want to find yourself having to catch and manhandle them into different pens, that's far too time consuming, tiring and stressful on the sheep.

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The lambs and gimmers find themselves left in the sheep pens, sometimes overnight depending on whether their mothers find themselves housed overnight waiting to be clipped the following day. So long as the sheep pens are sound, no broken rails or dodgy gates all will be well although the sheep must have plenty of room.

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The ewes are housed in a shed waiting to be clipped, they may have had a spell in the pens letting the wind and sun dry them off before being run into the shed. Ewes housed overnight can sometimes be a little bit wriggly the next day but then there is no winning as sheep with full bellies can be equally as awkward and actually more likely to do themselves harm if they fight against the shearer with a belly full of grass.

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Once the clipping gets underway the sheep run up a race with doors to catch them out of, there are a variety of devices used, this particular race is a permanent fixture in the shed. Contract shearers use clipping trailers of a variety of designs which are portable and can move from farm to farm. There is no doubt though that the most labour saving device is a race such as this where the sheep run along on the level, the trailers find sheep having to run up a steep race and they don't take to that too kindly, needing someone on hand permanently to push them up the ramp.

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The shearing which Shep does is mostly clipping alongside the farmer or shepherd such as this photo depicts. Gathering, dosing, housing, clipping,keeling, taking sheep back at the end of the day, can be fairly typical. True contract shearers roll into the farmyard and expect everything ready for them, sheep waiting patiently all the shearer has to do is shear. These fellas usually like to be clocking up 200+ a day each, the logistics of which can be difficult for the farmer to handle especially if they have many sheep running in smaller groups, I guess that's where I come in useful, we clip what is manageable for us in a day bearing in mind there is often the before and after work to be done as well.

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Once clipped the ewes are keeled ready to return to their cuts on the hill, this is the stock mark of that particular hill or even farm, not everyone keels after the clipping as the sheep will all be properly keeled in the back end but it can be a useful management tool to recognise your sheep very easily.

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Some sheep have a long hike back home,these in this picture have a couple of miles ahead of them, their lambs are waiting at the far end in the sheep pens as they were brought to the clipping shed without their lambs, it is far easier to drive them without lambs bouncing around and getting mis mothered, it is probably kinder on lambs and ewes in the long run. Moss is standing back surveying the scene, the ewes have a steep climb up the hill and are being given their time, letting them go at their own pace so as not to tire them out too easily.

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We catch up with them on the level and push them on slightly, the ones in the front went off like a rocket was behind them, desperate to return to their lambs and their home ground, some of the others were keener to graze and view the scenery so a little bit of encouragement was needed to get them on their way.

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Once the ewes are adjacent to the sheep pens the lambs are let out to join them, they take no encouragement to rush out of the pens and join their mothers. The noise is phenomenal as lambs and ewes are blaaring and bleating frantically trying to make verbal contact with one another.

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Ewes and lambs are reunited and rush into an enclosure where they will be held overnight prior to being set back out to the hill. They may well have been seperated for 24 hours but they soon get mothered up and are only too pleased to be able to return to their home ground where they can resume their quiet peaceful way of life without too much interference.

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All of these photos were taken away out bye, the dogs and I enjoy clipping out there better than anywhere else, we get to gather, view the lambs and work away merrily. They may be long days but they are happy days. It is a far more personal approach than just rolling up in a farmyard and clipping all day.

Falstone Show is looming

Shep got on thinking (dangerous.....) I honestly didn't realise we were so close to the month of August and was somewhat taken aback to find the month was rapidly approaching. Whilst clipping away yesterday it dawned on me that entries for Falstone Show were due by the 1st August which had to be getting close. It then dawned on me that our household still had not received a schedule of the classes.

I've managed to pick up a schedule from a committee member of the show and our usual veg, dog and baking entries will be entered (whether they get to the show or not will be a different matter) Anyone can enter these classes, there are classes for sheep, dogs, walking sticks, baking, booze, photographs, flowers, veg, children's classes suitable for various ages - you name it, there'll probably be a class for it.

These little shows are dependant on people supporting them, entering items in the various classes and giving the judges something to do in return for their free lunch tickets. Unfortunate then that this year there seems to be a shortage of schedules floating around for people to pick up. Although I have been informed that schedules and entry forms are available on line at although this appears to be for last years classes they don't vary too much from year to year so hopefully it is still possible to enter this way.

I was also gob smacked to hear when collecting my schedule that there had been a report in a local newspaper regarding signage for these small local shows. It is common practice for all our shows to advertise their up coming dates to all of those driving our country roads. As previously said these small shows desperately need support, either from people entering classes or people turning out on the day. Roadside signage catch passing motorists and tourists who are in the area and therefore help swell the gate numbers. It is a cheap day out for families compared to the high costs of attending a large commercial show, a fun and sociable day also.

I couldn't help but do some googling as I hadn't seen the actual newspaper article myself and so wished to read it and be in possession of the facts before sounding off on the matter. The following link will take you to one article I found on the subject I have to say that the ludicrousy of our government never fails to astound me. These signs have gone up for years, for a couple of weeks previous to the show date to ensure all are aware that the date is looming and now British bureaucracy seems to dictate that our little country shows are a health and safety issue to motorists - has the world gone mad? Maybe it ought to be suggested that motorists take a driving test especially for country roads as there are far greater hazards facing them than an odd sign here or there.

Monday, 25 July 2011

An update - July

Shep bought some milk yesterday, the sell by date was the 2nd of August. August! where the hell did July go?? It appears I have managed to overlook the fact that July has been and is about to leave for another year, how could I possibly miss a month? - a summer month at that!

I guess it boils down to having been busy, the last 30 something days has seen Shep just having two off from working, they were described in my diary as 'piss wet' with the added word 'housework' - my god, the weather must have been bad!

The summer hasn't been tremendous although we have had windows allowing a few days good weather followed by showery days or even wet ones. Invariably on the days when the conditions were poorer the evenings would get out good and sheep would get dried and housed in sheds overnight ready to clip the following day, thus allowing Shep to be kept busy.

I recall a few extremely hot days at the beginning of July, hot and humid, so hot in fact that sweat was dripping off every part of my anatomy that gravity would allow it to drip off. Now there is a saying that men sweat, pigs perspire and women glow - umm.......... Shep was definitely sweating, no doubt I was probably glowing also but sweat was the order of the day. Much to my dismay and utter disbelief it doesn't seem to matter how many sheep I clip or how much sweat is lost the bathroom scales refuse to tell me I have lost any weight. This phenomenon is not just bothering me but also the shepherd from out bye whom I have clipped alongside on a number of days. Between us we have concluded that muscle weighs heavier than fat, therefore we are burning off our fat during the day and producing more muscle and so our bodies are refusing to 'melt away'. This conclusion suits us and we will be sticking to it!

July has been a very busy month, not only shearing and gathering but also my 16 year old nephew came to stop for three weeks. Having just sat his GCSE exams he found himself idle and decided to escape and stop with us.

He has learnt much during his 'vacation'. His Aunty doesn't possess a great deal of patience,'I've told you once, I'll tell you twice but god help you if I have to tell you three times' also you have to get up in the mornings, work hard and return home tired. He has also learnt that if you don't work hard you may get chastised. But most of all he has learnt how to cook frozen pizza, how to find food when you're hungry and how to throw back as good as you get (verbally not food fights).

In many ways he deserved a medal for coping for three weeks, he did however earn a fair bit of money wrapping wool which would probably take some of the 'pain' out of the situations he found himself in. A great learning curve which I'm sure will set him onto greater things in life as he will have learnt what happens to you if you don't stick in at school and get a 'good' job!

Shep had a birthday sometime during the month of July, I would have missed it had I not recieved cards and goodies. My birthday morning dawned and saw me up at 5am and away by 5.30, heading off to gather out bye. What a cracking morning it was. What a great way to spend your birthday. I could almost imagine there wasn't another soul on the planet as dogs and I headed out to gather sheep out on the hills, mist burning off as we set away and the sun warming our backs as the morning drew on. I felt so fortunate to be able to enjoy the occasion. Mid morning saw me heading back down the valley and being reunited with the nephew to clip sheep on another farm. Those sheep were flying clipping, a pleasure to clip and once again I found myself thankful of such a pleasant way to spend my birthday.

There has been much hard work and much busying during the month of July but it has been a very sociable month, moving from farm to farm and getting fresh crack (conversation), much banter and quite a few jovial moments. There has been leg pulling and laughter which always helps the time to pass.

I bought myself one of those little cameras, the sort that fits into your back pocket with no view finder, you have to hold it at arms length an look at the screen at the back of the camera, it has taken a bit of getting used to but I have been playing with it this clipping season and received some strange looks from those I've been working alongside, especially when taking the following two pictures.
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I took these to give you an insight into what I see for most of the day, a self portrait of me ready to clip a sheep. I am on that picture honest! You can just make out my legs and my feet are under the sheeps wool.
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Then you have the finished article - a wool less and apparently headless sheep! A view I know only too well as day in day out I have been bending over surveying this scene - fascinating!

There is much to report on if I could find the time and energy, hopefully I'll get there and share it with you eventually. I have actually finished my clipping for the season but am now shearing alongside another shearer, someone who hasn't been as fortunate as myself and has found themselves held up with the weather. That magical figure of 3,000 sheep is history and where the total will end up I don't know. I do know that I enjoyed some peace and quiet last night. It was a cracking summers evening and I had to head away out bye to feed the shepherds dogs and the likes as he was away for a couple of days.

I let his dogs out of their kennels and along with mine we strolled down to the burn, it was 7.30pm and there was still heat in the sun preventing the midges from spoiling the occasion. I found myself sitting on the waters edge just enjoying the peace and quiet, the gentle bubbling of the water, birdsong and dragonflies flying by
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After the hubbub of a shearing shed, noisy machines, sheep blaaring, people talking, gates clattering it was sheer bliss, time to myself to sit and enjoy a summers evening.
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I wasn't the only one enjoying the experience the pack of dogs which were in my company also enjoyed the water but in a different manner to myself.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Good haircuts and bad ones!

I used to shear for a farmer for many years (unfortunately he is now dead)and every year when the last sheep went out of the shed naked and the job was finished for another year I would ask him if he was happy with the job. There were quite a number of sheep to be shorn so I would take another shearer along with me and I felt it only manners to enquire if he was happy with the job done.

Every year the answer I received was the same "Aye, there's only a week between a good haircut and a bad un" Guess that meant the job wasn't too bad......... I have to say there was one exception to the rule when it was requested the other shearer didn't return the following year and totally understandable as far too many sheep had been cut.

So, there's only a week between a good haircut and a bad one - that's good to know, especially as I used to get the other half to cut my hair!
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I'm not too sure that the above blackfaced ewe would agree with the week thing, she seems to 'stand out in a crowd'

Again many years ago, when young and fit but a very novice shearer this was not an unusual sight as a wriggle or kick saw the sheep escape my clutches and disapear across the yard dragging a fleece behind her with me in hot pursuit, red with embarrasement and rage.

On this occasion I will admit to having let the sheep go, on purpose, and no, not just so I could get a silly picture either!

There was an accident in the shearing shed. Unfortunately the wool packing crate toppled over and worse it involved children. Now it is no secret that Shep doesn't have a great love for children but I also don't like to see anyone hurt.

I was clipping away, heard the commotion and upon looking up from the job in hand made the instant decision to release the sheep and run to assist. Fright,shock and one or two bruises were the only harm caused although it looked a lot worse at the time.

Sobbing and tears ensued until finally the child looked across the yard, saw the sheep, laughed through tears and said "you haven't finished that one and she looks silly, did it get away from you?" the final bit of the sentence seemed to cause greater hilarity, the thought of a sheep escaping my clutches! Humph!!

I often say I was just put on this planet to make people laugh so I'll not take too much offense at the suggestion, at least it took the childs mind off a scarey accident!