Friday, 23 September 2011

What is a tup sale?

I noticed recently that someone had used the search keywords "what is a tup sale?" and realised that this blog does probably sometimes remove itself from the basics and as we are heading into the tup sale season then maybe it may help to try and explain this oddity.

A tup or ram is an entire male sheep. Most of the male lambs born find themselves castrated and are known as wethers. Some are left entire and these are known as tups in this neck of the woods.

Those kept as tups are generally intended for breeding later in their lives. Usually pure bred sheep, but not always the case. For an example a blackfaced ewe may have been crossed with a Swaledale tup and the resulting offspring may have been kept to breed from, a good sheep in it's own right but not a pure breed.

There are breed societies which record the breeding lines of sheep which are registered with them, dare say these could be classed as being 'pedigree' sheep, but even those not registered with breed societies in such a way still have their pedigrees, those who bred them will be able to recall how their mothers were bred and the breeding of their fathers also. The breeding lines are important to enable shepherds to prevent in breeding of their stock.

So, back to the original question. What is a tup sale? It is a sale of entire male sheep of whatever breed. Sheep which are destined to be the fathers of the next generation.

Tup sales are generally held at auction marts, or there are collective sales such as Kelso and Builth Wells held outside an auction mart but still run by auctioneers, the sheep still go under the hammer and are bid for by the individuals interested in them.

Tup sales are advertised in advance by the auction marts on behalf of their vendors and breeds available to buy on the day will also be advertised. There are specialist sales which concentrate on one breed only and there are collective sales which will have a variety of breeds available.

The tups are sold individually, unlike sales of breeding/fat/store sheep where there may be many sheep in the ring at one go being sold as a package.

A tup will be in the ring on his own and will be sold singly.

They are penned up at the mart collectively from the farm which they are being sold from. Therefore, Farmer Smith may have 10 tups to sell, these will be penned up as 10tups in a pen all individually numbered so they can be recognised when they enter the ring by their own personal number. Farmer Smith will take his 10 tups towards the ring as a bunch but they will then be pulled out one at a time and released into the ring as a single entity.

Tup sales commence in the autumn, there have already been quite a few tup sales within the region, these being the more in-bye breeds of sheep. The hill tup sales commence later in the season. The reason being that in-bye sheep go to the tup quicker than the hill sheep do, therefore it is necessary to buy the tups you require earlier in the season.

Tup sales are busy days and there are many venues and breeds to choose from which can find farmers and shepherds alike travelling many miles from home in an attempt to purchase the sheep of their fancy. They are busy and very interesting days.

Monday, 19 September 2011

pennymuir show 2011

The week after Bellingham Show Shep headed north and trotted off for an hour or two at Pennymuir Show. Just over the border it has been long recognised as one of THE sheep shows. A tiny little show, smaller even than Falstone but one which is well supported by those who enjoy showing sheep.

There are classes for South Country Cheviots, North Country Cheviots, Scotch Blackfaces and an 'any variety' sheep class as well as young handlers classes. The usual industrial and produce classes and also dogs and hounds. A true traditional hill mans show.

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All classes of sheep were of a high quality and good numbers of entries per class. The above is the South Country Cheviot ewe class (or was it the gimmer class?)Oops! lack of concentration there!

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The judge has finally chosen the five he likes the look of the best and commences handling them, checking mouths, wool, conformation before making his final decision.

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The blackface classes were also fiercely contested as in fact were all the classes, there were huge entries for the north country (hill type) cheviots but I didn't watch them being judged, can't be everywhere at once y'know.

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The young handlers classes were the highlight of the show, these kids are the future of farming, they hold the destination of our sheep shows in their hands and it was great to see so many youngsters enjoying themselves. Not just the youngsters but the Dads seemed to be having a jolly time as well.

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For once it wasn't necessarily going to be the sheep which won the prize tickets but the person handling the sheep. The judge was meticulous, speaking to each handler in turn, giving them all encouragement in their task. The young lass handling the leicester in this photo was the winner but by rights all the kids were winners on the day, their faces glowing with pride as they clung onto their sheep, enjoying the moment and hopefully heading home inspired and looking forward to the next time they can show sheep.

The future of farming in the form of these little ones were out in force, it was a great sight to see and a grand way to round off my day as I needed to head back south and attend local events. I didn't manage a full day at Pennymuir Show but I thoroughly enjoyed viewing a tremendous show of sheep, had a good crack with a few I knew and many I didn't and travelled home with a feeling of relief that hopefully I had seen a glimpse of the future of hill farming in that area.

Check out this other posting for the show and the local newspaper report here

Friday, 16 September 2011

Bellingham Show

Seems an eternity away now since Bellingham Show, guess it's really only a week or two since. The last Saturday in August is the date, the Saturday of the bank holiday weekend sees Bellingham hosting it's annual show.

The day before was wet, very wet. Shep had actually been working in Cumbria and was very surprised to find out just quite how wet it had been in the North Tyne Valley, we'd had quite canny weather but the burns (streams) in Tarset and its environs were boiling which gave cause for those involved in organising Bellingham Show reason for a sleepless night.

Would the show be able to go ahead? Would there have to be a last minute cancellation as happened in 2008 and if so would the show be able to survive the financial losses?

Folks of the North Tyne are tough and the show went ahead, stock turned up and supporters arrived on the show field. The rain throughout the day previous and the night prior to show day finally ran out of steam and a relatively dry day followed.
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Tractors were on hand to enable stock boxes to get onto the show field and unload their stock at the sheep pens.
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Some decided it was easier to carry their sheep up to the sheep pens, has to be said though that these are shetland sheep (a minority breed often kept by smallholders), shetland sheep are small and light in comparison with the normal sheep shown at our local shows, there aren't many that would like to carry their blackfaced/swaledale or leicester sheep to the pens.
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There was a variety of silverware to be contested for in the sheep lines by a variety of breeds of sheep.
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Judging got under way with all judges studying the sheep set in front of them looking for the 'perfect' beast, the one which would quite literally catch the judges eye on the day. These are blackfaced ewe lambs being judged with the following being the swaledale championship being judged. The breed championship is every first prize sheep within that breed competing against each other to find out which one is the best of the best - the champion!
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Once every breed represented on the day has had it's champion chosen the breeds find themselves going head to head to find out which will be crowned Overall Champion.
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The above photo was taken during the judging of the Overall Championship, the line up in the foreground shows Swaledale, North of England Blackface, Mule lamb and finally Bluefaced Leicester. The Overall Champion of Bellingham Show went to the Bluefaced Leicester tup lamb shown by Martin Archer of Carry House. It beat every breed on the day to take home the ultimate silverware.
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The pipe band were a pleasure to hear on the day, the photo shows you what they look like, men in kilts and playing bagpipes, unfortunately you'll just have to imagine how they sounded but it was a pleasure to listen to - take my word!

The day flew by, the wet weather held off, unfortunately there seemed to be fewer people around on the day as previous years but this seems to have been the norm this year, gate numbers at our local shows seem to have been down; visitors and tourists maybes aren't visiting, the recession may be biting hard, whatever the reason there have been less people at our shows than usual.
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Home time. It took one tractor to tow vehicles onto the showfield in the morning, it was seemingly taking two tractors to tow stock vehicles off in the evening but at least the show had gone ahead and competitors had competed.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Pink Wool

This posting has nothing to do with blooming sheep. Actually, most of the postings have something to do with 'blooming' sheep! What I mean is the title - Pink Wool - has nothing to do with the blooming or colouring of fleeces which occurs for shows and sales, although it has been known for things to go wrong when colouring sheep for sale and I'm sure pink sheep may well have inadvertently come out at the other end of the process. I recall once seeing some mule ewe lambs which had ended up some putrid pea green colour - different!

For quite a number of years now I have noticed sheep with a pink cast to their wool, these observations are generally made at clipping time, when I suppose the wool is at the front of your mind and in my case right under my nose all day.

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Over the years I have asked a number of farmers I've been working for what they think causes the pink wool on their sheep. Many have asked "what pink wool" and one farmer in particular was determined I was taking the piss (pulling his leg), until I dragged him along, told him to put his specs on and have a closer look, the reply was "well! I've never seen that before" (obviously!)

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Not all sheep and their fleeces have this pink tinge to the wool. You can have a group of sheep forward to clip and none may show the pinkness, in another group there may only be a handful whereas another group again may have many with a hint of pink on the ends of the wool.

So, for quite a number of years I have been querying this throughout the Tarset valley, most of the flocks I deal with throughout the year and so am aware of any treatments the farmers use. Some plunge dip whilst others don't, some use a pour on and others don't. There just never seemed to be a common denominator as to one management practice which involved the sheeps clothing which could be linked to every farm and result in pink wool.

My imagination began to run riot, could it be the rain? Acid rain? some peculiar pink fall out from the sky? That's it! a fallout from the sky - Mars is exfoliating and dropping dust on our sheep !!

As I have muttered on over the years it has got the farmers themselves thinking, a mineral deficiency seemed the most probable explanation, as mineral deficiences can affect some sheep more than others, depending on their metabolism and ability to maximise the minerals they ingest, that could explain why some sheep have a pink tinge when others don't. Although not rule of thumb a sheep with a pink tinge on the wool may also have been a lame sheep or something less thriven than others, however many perfectly healthy sheep would also show the pinkish hue on their fleeces so again this seemed to rule out that particular train of thought.

I have to say that for the past couple of years I had almost forgotten about my quest to ascertain where pink wool came from. Until this year, when it came to the fore once again. There was much crack (conversation) at the time regarding pink wool, some thought there seemed to be more sheep affected than on other years, that the colour saturation was probably even denser - more noticeable.

I was away clipping over the border and couldn't help but ask a retired shepherd, a gent in his 80's and hugely knowledgeable about sheep whether or not he knew the cause of pink wool. He had to admit he had never given it any thought and really couldn't think what the answer may be, but before I could feel deflated I heard the answer from behind me "It's the grasses"

The shepherd on the farm, who admittedly isn't as old as the gentleman I had asked but who is close to retiring and again highly knowledgeable about all matters sheep had come up with a possible explanation. Before long I was presented with a bouquet, not quite the sort you'd have in mind but a bouquet consisting of a variety of grasses.
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Indeed many of these grasses have a red/pink seed head. The shepherd went on to explain that it was these grasses which 'dyed' the wool. "But why is it only the backs of the sheep which are pink?" the sides of the fleeces are getting washed off as they walk through the grasses or bracken, the long stalks of the grass are closer to back height anyhow. Lame things or something not as well thriven are likely to appear pinker due to the fact they will be lying down for longer spells. Not all sheep are going to show the colour on their coats as they all have slightly different foraging routes and also different coats, some may be more susceptible than others to holding the colour than others.

Do you know? Years of wondering, questioning, perusing, concluding had never drawn me to this fairly obvious answer. I don't know that it is correct but it is the most logical explanation that I have come upon yet.

This year the grass has grown like it's never grown before (probably a slight exaggeration there), we have had one of the grassiest years I can recollect for a long time. The grasses grow tall and carry their seed heads through the early summer months, once the clipping season is over there are very few coloured grass heads to be found, most of them having dried out ready to seed and the colour has been lost, which might explain why the colouration on the sheep is more obvious when they are in full fleece.

I don't know, I'm not a scientist. I do however have a lot of time and respect for those who have been in the trade for a long time, men who have grown up amongst sheep, worked and lived with them for a lifetime know far more than many of the rest of us. Until someone can prove otherwise I am going with this explanation I received this summer. Pink wool is caused by grass pollen.

Maybe someone out there has another take on the idea, feel free to leave a comment as none of us are too old to learn.

Monday, 5 September 2011

An update - August

The last update was in July I have had to re read it to remember what had gone on. Here we are in the beginning of September and I'm wondering where August went, in fact I'm actually wondering where the hell the summer went.

It has been a disappointing summer weather wise and the vein continued through August and into the beginning of September. It has to be said though that at the moment the weather is mild if not damp at times. There is still a lot of grass around although the hills are dying back, the greens are beginning to fade and the first signs of autumn are peeking through.

The heather has given us a tremendous show this year, with the pollen rising like dust when you travelled through it and the scent strong enough to cause you to sneeze. I recall one day when Moss, Kale and I had been gathering in the Rede for 5 hours, the dogs had been bounding around in the heather for most of that duration, you could see 'clouds' of pollen dust being left in their wake. Once home I let them out of the car and into the garden, I was surprised when Kale shook himself and a cloud of dust rose from his coat! It is unfortunate that there has not been enough decent days to truly enjoy the purple blanket in all it's glory but there have been windows, the odd decent day when the depth of purple has been accentuated by sunlight.

Lamb sales have commenced and the trade seems to be strong, breeding sheep are required and making good money at the moment, the fat trade has dropped slightly as more lambs come on the market but compared to a few years back it is definitely nothing to grumble about. Farmers might be smiling! Shep has yet to find the time to attend a mart (sheep sale) but I will one day.

As for Shep, well, busy as usual. I see in the last posting I had finished my clipping........ and then started again! The few days I gave to the other shearer weren't always plain sailing, much of it was outdoor shearing or for farmers who didn't have much room to house sheep, which made organisation difficult due to the fact the showers insisted on falling.

They were 'relaxed' days, after all, they weren't my jobs, I had no organising to do I just had to turn up on the farms on the allocated days. The final days clipping was on Sunday 28th August. That is late. The season up here runs through June and July and sometimes into the beginning of August. The end of August is definitely getting late. However, there is the train of thought that wool growth is determined by the length of day and temperature and those who clip late claim their sheep are wooled up the same as everyone elses once the winter gets here.

I have to say as August drew on I really didn't feel like clipping, the days were getting cooler and shorter and somehow it didn't feel right, it was the wrong season. I was dipping, spaening (weaning) then heading off for a days clipping - very peculiar!

The final tally? 3,993 was the total on the 28th August. Since then I have clipped 7 with hand shears that have come in at the spaening which were missed at the clipping gather and I know of at least one more sheep to clip when I head off shortly to dip. So the tally to date is a straight 4,000. Should I track down the elusive one on the dipping day I'll be able to say I clipped over 4,000!

It may seem like a huge number of sheep but believe you me it isn't, not by professional shearers standards anyhow and when I was younger and fitter I used to clip more than that. When you consider the duration I seem to have been on clipping it seems even less!! T'will do for me tho', may well be the last time I shear quite so many - who knows?

The final days clipping was a challenge. I usually rise to a challenge but have to say I felt I could have walked away from this one. Out door clipping, showers threatening all day and the wind was blowing a hoolly. The clipping trailer never needed loose wool brushing off it, in fact the person wrapping had to be quick to grab the fleece before it too blew off the trailer. I don't think I have ever clipped with a hat on before, the T shirt never saw daylight although I did get my coat off eventually,I still had a further three layers on though. Cheviots were the order of the day. Yes I know, I like cheviots, but they are south country cheviots, these were cheviot crosses and north country cheviots. The north country cheviot being the bigger bruisier cousin of the southy. The clipping trailer was set up outside the sheep pens, once off the trailer the sheep had a 100 acres to disappear on, there was little room for mistakes!

There were a couple of dodgy moments. A north country cheviot tup caused some consternation. A big white, fat, woolly, heavy beast he was, whom I struggled with and eventually got tipped out of the race, just as his backside hit the deck he sprung to his feet with me hanging on for grim death. My technique was anything but professional but I have to say not a swear word passed my lips, due to the fact all breath needed conserving to hang on to the beast! I was still dancing around on the spot doing a poor attempt at being in control and hoping to god neither of us fell off the trailer, or if we did hopefully it was him and not me when the other shearer came to the rescue. Having finished his sheep, which he was clipping alongside of me, he came across and said "Here, I'll clip that for you" my dogged determination left me in a flash and I never once considered disagreeing, a huge feeling of relief overcame me as I passed my unruly charge over to a man 20 years my senior and without even a tinge of guilt! Out of the five tups to clip that day I only managed one! One was plenty!

I rang home at lunch time. Knowing the other half was away out working I left a message on the answerphone, hoping he would return home before myself and asking for the fire to be lit and stoked up with coal, damper on and water getting heated. All I could think of was a long hot soak in the bath, clipping in the cold isn't good for you, clipping with a hat on and top coat isn't good for you. There were times the windchill hit my hands and I wondered if I was holding on to the handpiece or not! It's times like this when you wish you had an immersion heater, when you know you could walk in the house and find the water was hot. Fortunately he did return before I did and the water was boiling in the hot tank enabling me to enjoy my soak and unstiffen my chilled body.

There is nothing worse than finishing the clipping on a low. I was so pleased to be finished and could easily have chucked the clipping machine away, however, it is relatively new and worth a fair bit of money so that would be unwise! Not only that but I do really enjoy clipping, t'was just one of those days and the memory will be in the past when I hang the machine up again next June and set off on another clipping season.

August saw the clipping over for another year, Falstone and Bellingham shows over for another year, sheep spaened (weaned) once again for another year and finally August itself over again for another year. Where does the time go? The nights are really beginning to cut in, dark by 8.30pm now, although still light at 6am which ain't too bad. The beauty of autumn will soon be upon us with winter following -short days and time to recuperate - with the added bonus of spring hot on its heels!