Friday, 28 October 2011

Away day again... The Holme (Newcastleton) blue grey sale

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Once again Shep disappeared off to a mart. Just over the border into Scotland is Newcastleton, renowned for it's two day sale of blue grey cattle. Yup! you heard right - cattle, not sheep for once. Once again the offer of a lift was made and Shep took it up, I was grinning to myself that I keep turning up at marts with different fellas - they say variety is the spice of life!

Newcastleton Mart has long been a focal point for blue grey cattle sales, a trip down memory lane as in my youth, when first working, the boss and I used to sell cattle there and low and behold, the mart and sale still exist. Other sales we attended at Haltwhistle, Rothbury and Bellingham no longer exist but Newcastleton does!

I did attend the mart half a dozen years ago but since then there have been further changes, subtle and necessary changes. The pens have been rebuilt, wooden gates have been replaced by metal ones, but other than that there is little difference since many years ago when we would be selling cattle there. The mart still retains it's character.Quite a treat nowadays!

I've written in the past that I have a soft spot for the humble Galloway cow, a black, hairy, hardy beast which used to prolific in hill areas. The blue grey is a cross bred beast out of the Galloway, sire being a White Shorthorn. The end result being a hardy beast with less hair than the mother possesses, a good carcase animal which will cross well with continental breeds. It also tends to take on a grey look, which I guess is what you get when you cross black with white! There are a variety of colourations, with 'red' ones thrown on occasion also.
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Cattle waiting to enter the ring
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suckler calves in the ring being sold There are a range of ages of heifers on sale on the first day of the two day sale, there are ones such as these known as sucklers, weaned straight off their mothers and taken to be sold. These were off Ottercops and realised £460 each.
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There are then bulling heifers such as the ones above from High Thorneyburn. These are mature, a year older than the suckler calves and old enough to go to the bull, hence the reason they are known as bulling heifers. The consigment from this particular farm averaged £1,027 a head. It is also possible to buy incalf heifers at the sale. Those which have been run with a bull and served, they have usually been 'scanned' and are guaranteed in calf.
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Cattle penned up after they have been sold, as you can see, there is an odd 'red' one. Notice the numbered labels on their rumps, these are attached to the beast prior to going into the ring, quite literally stuck on with glue which eventually weathers off and causes no discomfort to the animal at all. The numbered labels give everyone a quick and easy reference as to the animal and who bought it. These cattle are now waiting to be loaded onto a wagon and head for their new homes where they will hopefully live and breed for a few years to come.

The day didn't quite go as planned, there were issues with cars, trying to be organised Shep waited patiently outside her cottage for the arranged lift to appear, not knowing they were trying to 'phone me to inform me they had broken down. There must be something in the air.......... Eventually all was sorted and I found myself able to return favours, come to the rescue and take my own car, which still looks clean and respectable due to the fact I have only had it for a week, my passengers didn't have cause to hold their noses during the journey!
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I'll leave you with this shot of two Highland heifers which were the last cattle through the ring, I thought they looked cute, a bit of a teddy bear look about them. The second day of the sale is for bullocks (castrated male calves) which will also range from 6 - 18 months of age. Shep wont be in attendance, breeding sales are more interesting and work needs to be done.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Have wheels, will travel (chapter three)

Bet you're all wondering if this is the final chapter...........

Sunday had seen faithful old car limp to it's final resting place. Monday morning dawned and the shepherd from out bye duly arrived to pick me up, obviously the inconvenience of coming to collect me was less than the inconvenience of not having my assistance for the day.

The night previous I had scoured the internet looking for a suitable motor and thought I'd found one, it was over a hundred miles away, a long way to travel to find it was no good and anyhow, when would I get the time to go, who would take me and would it be sold by then? Aargh!!

I guess I wasn't the brightest bunny on the Monday, sulky probably, preoccupied more than likely, grumpy even - I'll hold my hands up to all three.

I set off to gather sheep, dogs as happy as larry (there is much to be learnt from dogs!). It was a simple gather, not too much ground to cover, fenced in areas of hill ground, bike tracks to follow, fairly easy viewing of proceedings, not too much could go wrong you wouldn't think.

I had been entrusted to do a simple task, gather these sheep, pen them, tail, dose, keel etc, return them to their pastures and head home with the works landrover. Easy! The shepherd was going to meet up at the sheep pens mid morning before excusing himself for a prior engagement - fine by me.

It was an alright sort of morning, but the forecast was poor, the quicker I got on the less chance there would be of receiving a good soaking. With luck on my side all would be well.

The air turned blue - well and truly! Half way through the 'easy' gather I found the quad bikes wheels were no longer going around. For once it wasn't due to that sinking feeling, I hadn't got myself bogged as I am so prone to doing, no, I hadn't sunk into some soft boggy ground I had risen and to say the bike wheels were no longer going round was a bit unfair, they were going round they just weren't making purchase and so were taking me nowhere. Aargh!

Often, when found in this position, shifting your weight around so that you are rocking the bike from side to side will enable you to make purchase and resume your journey - that didn't work. Getting off and pushing whilst keeping pressure on the thumb throttle will often get you out of a sticky predicament - that didn't work. Physically lifting either the front end of the bike or the back end of the bike can move it far enough to 'dismount' from the offending article - that didn't work.

By this time the language wasn't fit to repeat, I was absolutely furious to say the least, temper was finding an inner strength which had me lifting the bike almost onto it's nose but to no avail. I wandered off, found a fence post, returned with my trophy and commenced trying to lift the bike from the middle of it's body to the point I thought I would end up tipping the damn thing onto it's side but all was to no avail. I was hot and bothered, in a foul fettle, had wasted at least twenty minutes and had got no where. My gathering resumed on foot.

I don't know what was worse, getting the bike stuck or having to ask the shepherd for a hand to get me out of my predicament. Small consolation was his exclamation of "quite bizarre" when he too found he couldn't move the bike and it took two of us to remove it from the bull snoot (hump) it had found itself wedged upon, on a track both of us had travelled hundreds of times before with no problems what so ever.

So there I was, on my tod for the day, at the sheep pens away from the farmhouse, in a grump, full of self pity, failing to manage a simple task, losing time, then it began to rain, the day was getting on, I hadn't carried any bait (packed lunch) as I hadn't intended the task would take as long, fed up didn't have a look in, the only positive was that I was working alone, humour such as mine wasn't fit to share with anyone, alone was the best place to be.

I had managed a 'high' moment, we all need to find something to marvel in and whilst gathering on foot I had set a snipe up, the wind was very strong and it was slow to rise and struggled to shoot off in it's zig zag flight pattern, I had time to appreciate the beauty of the bird, the brown and golden stripe patterns of the plummage on its back, the stumpy shape of it's body, the bright eye and prominant beak. A fleeting moment but one which had brought me back to earth, a moment I had appreciated.

There I was, in the sheep pens, rain getting heavier by the minute, tummy grumbling, headache keeping me company, battling on to get finished and seek shelter when a voice asked if I would like a cup of tea.

A cup of tea! God could I kill a cup of tea! I wasn't dreaming, this really was an offer of a life saving cup of tea. These sheep pens are situated at the far extremeties of the farm, where once upon a day the second shepherd lived. Nowadays there is just one shepherd on the farm and the house is a private let. The householder had realised there was activity in the sheep pens and decided to come out and offer a cuppa.

When the tea arrived the pair of us took shelter in the hayshed. For someone feeling so out of sorts with the world I was surprised to find it was good to have some human company. The weather was discussed as is so often the case, general crack all about nowt then I was asked if I knew anyone who wanted to buy a car. Did I know anyone who wanted to buy a car?Rather none commital I trotted along to view the said car, enquired what sort of price they were asking, stood, looked, thought, looked a bit more, thought again...... then found myself agreeing to buy the car.

Tea was drunk and I resumed my duties in the sheep pens, just twenty four hours from parking up my broken car I had found another car, or had it found me?

Sometimes luck is on your side. Beggars can't be choosers, I once again have wheels. Not my chosen motor, not a diesel, not the make I would have liked, but to date it goes, it also stops when asked, there is room for the dogs - it has a sunroof! it isn't a dark colour! It will see me through for the time being, I can get to work, I don't have to go ones errand and find a car right this minute and who knows, it may be economical to run, it may last a year or two. I have an open mind and will wait and see.

That Monday was quite a memorable day. Coincidences. Had I not got the bike stuck, had I not lost a lot of time I wouldn't have been around mid afternoon in the pouring rain to have been offered a cup of tea, I would not have known there was a car available to buy. Who would expect to find a car away out in the back of beyond? The day was memorable for another reason, disapointing in some respects but logical in others, I have spent much time and energy lately considering every aspect of applying for one particular full time job, I now realise that this particular job is not the one for me, not unless the quad bike has a winch fitted to it to get me out of those sticky predicaments I so frequently find myself in!

Monday, 24 October 2011

Have wheels, will travel (chapter two)

No wheels, can't travel! That's a lie, my car has four wheels, they still go around, she still starts and will stop when asked, it may be fair to say she has a limp on the near far, unfortunately it would appear it is a limp which is incurable. A problem which can arise with sheep, they too can suffer injuries which on occasion can be incurable, it is then that problems arise.

There are many rules and regulations in life. Cars for instance have to be roadworthy or else they are deemed illegal, mine still has MOT, an annual health check which every car over a certain age has to undergo, however, this no longer means it is roadworthy, it ain't, it's old and infirm. Sheep don't need an annual MOT although they are checked throughout the year by those looking after them and issues resolved if and when they arise.

An incurable problem with sheep can also be a problem for the farmer/shepherd. There are welfare issues to respond to, vets bills may occur, the outcome may not be satisfactory, some animals may be able to travel for slaughter with certification from a vet, others may not. Those which cannot travel may be slaughtered on farm and even butchered but only for personal consumption, others however may have to be slaughtered on farm then collected by the dead cart with additional expenses incured. All in all it is rarely a happy scenario.

My car is hardly the same as dealing with livestock but all the same it is a sad sight, faithful old motor, home to spiders on the inside and lichens on the outside, it has come to the end of its days. I have been on the look out for quite a while now to find a replacement motor, long before she gave up the ghost and fell to pieces I have been scouring adverts looking for something suitable to take her place.

Spare time has been of a premium this year, the opportunity to get away and view suitable vehicles has rarely arisen, but then suitable motors have been hard to find, they are usually miles away in the big towns and cities, many have higher mileages than my car does for far less years. Any which have seemed suitable have been snapped up in no time, those that aren't snapped up obviously mustn't have been suitable!

Do I really want to spend a few thousand pounds on something which will carry three dogs and end up looking like mud wrestlers have competed inside it, something which will find itself dirtier on the inside than the outside? Personally I would say no, most definitely no. Money is hard earned as it is, I'm not keen on throwing it away. Anyhow, who's to say one of those expensive second hand cars isn't going to blow it's engine up in disgust with the way it is treat?

I've never been a car snob, I just require something that goes when asked and stops when told - quite simple really. Except I would like another diesel, preferably with a sunroof like my old one, preferably the same make, although I ain't fussy about the colour except dark cars aren't as easily seen on country roads........ I haven't been asking for a lot other than my old car reincarnated - is that a lot to ask for?

Anyhow, regardless, I found myself in the unenviable position of being without a car, work booked in for days to come, no opportunity to get away and try to find a car and yet no car to get to work in........ Oh!

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Have wheels, will travel (chapter one)

Is that a saying? "Have wheels, will travel" or is it one of them things that exists in Sheps vocabulary and no one elses? As I am often prone to saying.... "I know what I mean"!

Not being a normal shepherd (in fact probably not even being 'normal'), I do have a necessity for wheels - a form of transport, a way of travelling from farm to farm as and when my assistance is required for whatever task is on hand at the time. Wheels are a very important part of my day to day existence.

Tarset is a rural parish and buses tend not to run, I do believe there is a public bus service which does run once a day a few miles further down the valley but where I live there are no buses and even if there were chances are they wouldn't be running to which ever farm I was likely to be working on. Then there is the question of dogs, would a bus permit three dogs on board as well? Questionable. But then not a question I need to consider as the opportunity is not there so why wonder?

So it is, Shep needs a form of transport and indeed for a number of years now I have had my trusty stead, a creature I have become quite fond of, learnt and accepted it's peculiar little quirks and probably taken it very much for granted.

My car has served me well, of that there is no doubt. It has always fit my requirements well, start when asked and stop when requested - never failed on either counts, what more could anyone ask of a motor?

There is no doubt my car has probably had a rough life, it was transformed from a family hatchback to a mobile dog kennel, expected to carry three dogs, clipping machines, shears, dirty wellies, boots, wet coats - you name it anything a normal family hatchback wouldn't be carrying mine would. She never once complained, although I'm sure on the rare occasion I have had a human passenger there may well have been one or two silent comments.

Most cars travel on tarmac roads, get washed on Sundays and valeted frequently. Mine got valeted when due it's annual MOT, washed when it rained and was as accustomed to driving through clarts (mud) and hoggin roads as it was to being on tarmac. She even had a blackfaced ewe standing on the bonnet one day whilst parked in a farm yard. On a positive note she did get serviced twice yearly, oils and filters changed to keep her sweet and in repayment she always started when asked and stopped when told to. We were happy with our arrangement.

Sunday 15th October saw car and I, plus the usual dogs and anything else rattling around in the interior of the motor, take off to work away out bye. A hoggin (stoned) road for a mile or two, plus a fair amount of clarts due to timber being felled and stacked on the roadside, which saw the old car sliding and struggling slightly but on we went and reached our destination in one piece. That particular day was blood donors day. Blood donors take place down in our local middle school and the session runs from 11am - 4pm (or something like that).

Anyhow, the job in hand found itself sorted away out bye and discussions ensued as to whether to try and attend blood donors or not, the shepherd was weary and couldn't really be bothered, I was recovering from a cold and felt sure my offerings would be rejected, but to hell with it, blood is important to someone, we'll go!

Two of us headed down the valley as the shepherd required a lift to collect his vehicle so two birds could be killed with one stone so to speak. Time was getting on and I have to say my poor little motor travelled down through the forestry on pot holey and muddy roads at a rate of knots it would be unaccustomed to. It wasn't until we were further down the valley and on tarmac roads that I asked my passenger what the noise in the back was. "Are the dogs chewing something?"

He looked over his shoulder and replied "Umm......... no....... your... um... the... err... what do you call it? Er... umm... Wheel strut I think."
"Wheel strut what?" I asked
"It's trying to pop through your wheel arch"
"Yes! Sure! What are the dogs chewing?"
"Seriously" came the reply "I'll steer and you have a look"
Now, if he thought I was going to let go of the steering wheel whilst driving and turn around in my seat to look behind me he had another think coming, especially as I didn't believe him and wasn't going to be wound up that easily.
"Sure - stop taking the piss, dogs are chewing something" Just as I hit a pothole in the road the reply came back
"That's done it, it's definitely the wheel strut, I can see it now, it's sticking up in the boot with the dogs"
"Yer, sure!" came my reply.

The next couple of miles saw me driving slightly steadier, on being questioned about road handling and did the car not lean to one side I replied no, everything seemed quite normal really apart from a funny noise and my passenger irritating me coz he couldn't realise that no matter how hard he tried to wind me up he wasn't going to succeed, I've been caught out with his wit before, I'm not that gullible, I was not going to be taken in, my car is fine, everyone mocks my car, she's fine, starts and stops - fine - end of story!

Unfortunately, upon arriving at our destination, parking up and looking into the back of the car I soon realised that it was not a piss take, it was indeed true, the dogs were sharing their area with a rear wheel strut, fortunately still attached to the wheel and obviously the wheel was still going around but there was no doubting the fact that it had pushed its way from the dark gloomy place it had lived in for the last sixteen years and finally found daylight........ Umm!

I was ready for a lie down after that, blood pumped out of my arm quite nicely and as for my passenger, he later informed me he had 'phoned a friend' and requested a lift, not just too happy to travel in my faithful old car anymore.
"What d'y mean? She still goes......."

I gently drove home, musing all the way. I had thought of finding a great big boulder and placing it over the top of the strut, bound to push it back into place you would think, but then the rear springs are getting hard up and might not carry the weight. A request later to the other half to weld something over the top to hold things in place was greeted with a snort and the retort "you can't weld onto rust"

Oh dear. I do like my car, it starts and stops, never been any bother and now it is illegal, tired, rusty, old, worn out, strong of heart but weak in body. If it were a sheep you would get rid of it................. Oh!

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

keeling - stock mark

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Above are pots of keel, sheep keel.

Known locally as keel but nationally as marking fluid. The word fluid makes you imagine the marking substance must be a liquid, well it ain't! although there are some products on the market which are indeed quite liquified, the majority tend to be of a more solid consistency, something like putty I guess. There again, temperature has a lot to do with just how liquified the keel may become, used on a hot day it definitely begins to melt, a cold day it can be quite solid.

Keel is basically a 'paint' which is applied to the sheeps wool.
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It can be acquired in various colours, the main ones being red, blue, green, black and orange.
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Applied to the fleece by way of a keel stick, usually a purposefully cut piece of hazel which will have been used for years, stored with the keel pots until keeling time comes around again. There are some who apply keel with a brush (especially on fresh shorn sheep) and some who use a spatula shaped stick to 'slap' the keel onto the wool.

A stick as shown in the above photos enables the person who is keeling to actually twist the keel into the wool giving it a better and deeper hold of the fleece.
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The final result is a fairly permanent keel mark on the wool of the sheep.

So why put a painted blob on the sheeps wool?

This is a stock mark. Each farm has it's own stock mark or marks. You can easily cast your eye over your sheep and quickly notice if there are any which don't belong to you or have found themselves on the wrong part of the farm or hill ground. Every farmer recognises his neighbours keel marks and can easily distinguish that a) the sheep doesn't belong on this farm (or part of the farm) and b) where it does belong. Should it be a neighbours sheep it will be gathered in, horn burns checked and either returned or a 'phone call to come and collect will be made.

Not only are there a variety of colours of keel but there are also a variety of places upon the sheeps body where the keel mark can be placed. The sheep has two sides to her to start with. Some may keel on the near rib, others the far rib. There is also the shoulder and hook (hip), some even put a double keel mark upon their sheep.

Keeling time is usually in the back end of the year. Once draft (retiring) ewes have been pulled off the flock and anything which isn't good enough to continue as a flock sheep either due to udder problems or just a poor type of sheep a final count will be made. Most hills tend to keep the same number of sheep running on the ground from year to year (give or take one or two). Once the sheep are sorted and the farmer or shepherd is content with the numbers and quality present these sheep will be given the permanent flock mark.

By the back end the wool has grown sufficiently to allow the keel to be well adhered to the fleece. It ought not to grown out or fade too much in the ensuing months.
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Regardless of what weather the sheeps wool may be subjected to throughout the winter months it is expected that the keel mark will not find itself 'washed' out of the fleece. As with these ewes, the blue keel mark on their near rib is clearly visible.
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The fleece is removed off the sheep at clipping (shearing) time during the summer months and the keel mark is still clearly visible. Blue on the near (left) rib, red on the near (left) shoulder and green on the far (right) rib, still clearly visible and easy to tell which cuts of the hill these sheep had belonged. The wool board who buy the fleeces do prefer smaller keel marks, although the keel is scourable it will take a bit of removing.
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Some keel their sheep after they have been clipped, this mark will last on the sheep through to keeling time but due to there not being any wool cover to hold the mark it will begin to fade and will require being re applied in the back end to enable it to last throughout the winter.

I know of two farms who actually put a 'bust' on their sheep after clipping time. This being applied by ways of a 'busting' iron. A large metal letter on the end of a metal shank. This letter is dabbed into the keel pot and the keel which is stuck to it is then 'stamped' onto the sheeps back, along similar lines to the following picture
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Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Hexham Mart. Draft ewe sale day.

Shep wouldn't miss the ewe sale at Hexham Mart for love nor money. Breeding sales are always interesting, by looking at the ewes, gimmers and ewe lambs present you can get a good idea of what the stock at home is like. The farmers who take their sheep to Hexham take a great deal of pride in their stock and it is always a great pleasure to see sheep well turned out for the job. When the marts such as Bellingham and Rothbury closed down Hexham went to the effort of building a new ring, a ring dedicated for the sale of breeding sheep, a ring which shows sheep off to the best of its abilities.

The ewe sale was held on 29th September with predominantely blackfaced and swaledale breeding sheep forward, with other classes for cheviots and then in bye breeds such as mule, texel and suffolk crosses. Sheep of all ages are sold. Draft ewes, gimmers and ewe lambs being what most folk are looking for.
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Fleehope 5 year old draft ewes which made £120
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Emblehope 5 & 6 year old scotch draft ewes sold for £82
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The champion pen of 20 Hexham type 6 year old draft ewes from Townfoot which made £138

Draft ewes were in demand on the day. They were a roaring trade. These are ewes which are retiring off the hill to spend a year or two on better pastures and probably breeding mule ewe lambs. Due to the fact that mule ewe lambs have been realising high prices there was confidence and money to be spent on buying in the next generation of ewes to be crossed to the Leicester. Although having said that the tup breeding men were also buying drafts off other tup breeding men, a route towards getting different genetics for breeding your own pure sheep.
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Swaledale ewes were also in demand, although the buyers seemed to be sleeping when the first few pens entered the ring they soon woke up and saw the Swales making decent money.
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Although a rarer sight these days there are still some hill farms able to enter the ring with a decent drove of sheep, these sheep off Low Bleakhope realised a top price of £100 although the top price of the day for 5 year old draft ewes was for the prize pen from Wolfhills which made £120 per head.

I thought the gimmers were probably a selective trade, they sold well but after my forays the day previous I was expecting greater things. Having said that, a pen from Sewingshields made £240 which wouldn't have been too disapointing for the Murrays I don't think.
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The prizewinning pen of gimmers from Closehead sold for £180
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Ewe lambs were also a good trade with these from Brieredge realising £112

Once again the sun shone, hot weather, almost a shame to be couped up at a mart but come hail or shine Shep wouldn't like to miss the ewe sale day at Hexham, I might not have got the tan topped up but I did enjoy my day.

I have to take my hat off to the mart staff. The elderly sheep keeper in Tarset was selling a number of sheep that day, they were gathered in the gloom at 6.30am, a very patient and kind wagon driver collected them at 7.30am and to the mart they headed. The gimmers were held seperate in the wagon but the other three groups of sheep were mixed in another compartment. On reaching the mart it was found that a lad on the unloading docks had got his catalogue out, worked out what sheep were entered where and caught them all out and penned them up in their correct pens. A great start to the morning.

As the sheep neared the ring there were other mart staff on hand to ensure the elderly sheep keeper safely found a way into the ring to sell her sheep, they showed great consideration and kindness towards her. The auctioneers also went out of their way to ensure her sheep realised a good price. The personal touch, one which may not have been realised by the elderly lady herself, but was appreciated by those assisting her on the day. Having traded with the mart company for the duration of her lifetime it just shows that some things do count.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Hexham Blackfaced Tup Sale 2011

Second Monday in October is the annual tup sale for the North of England branch of Blackfaced sheep - the Hexham type.

10th October 2011 was the date and Shep mozzied along. There were a good show of tups on view, definitely more showing scotch bloodlines but the traditional Hexham type were also abundant. Trade seemed good throughout although you wouldn't have to break the bank to get a half useful hill tup.

2011 saw all records broken. A new breed record for Hexham Auction Mart was realised with the first prize shearling from Toft House. Robert Robson, shepherd, from Toft House managed not only to win the shearling class which was judged earlier in the morning, he also won the best group of three shearlings, followed by taking the overall championship. Three lots of silverware awarded to him in the ring prior to the sheep being sold, followed by the fourth cup awarded to the shepherd of the champion sheep. At the end of the sale he would also be awarded a fifth cup for the sheep which made the most money on the day. £20,000 was the magical figure.

I don't know for sure but I can't recall one farm managing to take as much silverware away in one go, a credit to the man himself and his sheep, let alone the new centre record of £20,000 paid by Robbie and Paul Coulson of High Staward.

Now I bet you're all looking forward to seeing a picture of this magical beast - so am I, there has been much blaspeming and cursing this evening but all to no avail. I cannot retrieve the photos - aargh! That nifty little pocket camera I invested in after lambing time has been getting well and truly cursed, there would now appear to be a fault on the card. A last ditch attempt will be to send the card to a friend who knows more about computers and digital things than I do - my fingers are crossed!

Needless to say, the sheep in question was a fine example.
Posted by PicasaFinally - a photo, taken off the mart website. At least any one viewing this post can see what the £20,000 sheep looked like.

Shep had an enjoyable day, catching up with friends, catching up with crack and thoroughly enjoying the company of a sound sheep man, a retired shepherd in his 80's from the scotch side who transformed every sheep which entered the ring with his knowleadgeable eye.

Sale report can be found here:

The proceedings were unfortunately cut short with a pending dentist appointment, must remember to get an earlier appointment next year! On the way home I called to visit an amazing gentleman who is closer to 100 years old than he is to 90. I will write a post about this some time soon, for now I will just say it was a cracking way to round off the day, especially as when I finally trundled up at home the other half had managed to make our supper!

My ganderings are coming to a halt, I did have an invitation to attend St Johns Chapel to view the Swaledale tup sale tomorrow but unfortunately work has to come first, I may get to Lanark on Thursday but then I may not........ I am absolutely gutted I didn't get away to Dalmally tup sale on Saturday past, however, life is too short and the date is booked for next year, come hail or high water nothing will stop me from heading away up into Scotland to view the tups at Dalmally, it is one of those MUST DO's in life and next year I WILL DO !

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Harvest thanksgiving

Churches have their harvest festivals at this time of the year. A time to reflect and give thanks for the harvest. It always amuses me that my initial thought when I hear the word Harvest is of corn/grain.

Combine harvesters have been busy further down the valley, away in the direction of the south tyne where ground is more fertile and it is hoped the weather is kinder. They corn men had a battle on their hands this year, the weather was being unco - operative, that wet stuff had a habit of falling from the skies making the harvesting season a difficult one.

I don't have a great knowleadge of arable farming, they plough the fields, sow the seeds and eventually reap the harvest. The produce goes into the food chain, both ours and the food chain of the livestock. The by product of harvesting corn (the stems) is baled and becomes known as straw which finds itself being transported up into our area for bedding of livestock through the winter months, this bedding once used and soaked with muck finds itself being spread on our fields to encourage grass growth to feed the livestock through the summer and in the form of silage or hay which has been gathered off the fields.

So, my initial thought upon hearing the word Harvest is to imagine the combine harvesters going about their business gathering corn, which would make you think Tarset (an area which doesn't grow corn) doesn't have a harvest, so why then would our local church hold a service for harvest thanksgiving?

The farmers of Tarset are at the moment reaping the financial rewards of their very own harvests. The sheep and cattle sales season is upon us, the lamb crops are finally being harvested so to speak, giving us every reason to give thanks for what has been produced through out the year.

There is much hard work goes into farming, of any form. Not just hard physical graft, knowleadge is needed, skills are recquired, an understanding of your land and it's potential is needed as with your livestock and their potential. There is also a need to work hand in hand with nature and respect it.

By nature I don't just mean the birds and the bees but the larger scale. Mother nature, the elements which we battle with every day. The rain, wind, sunshine, snow, cold, heat ....... all the things we have no control over, the things which challenge farmers and shepherds alike throughout the year. The elements which make life interesting, the elements which can deflate optimisms, the elements which give us the beauty we are so accustomed to.

And so it is, once again farmers have battled the elements, they and their stock have come through yet another year and they are reaping their harvests right this minute so to speak, they are also preparing for the forthcoming season, tups are being bought, seeds will be sown again and another lamb crop will be produced. There has been much to be thankful for, decent weather at lambing time, a grassy summer and autumn, haysheds full ready for what ever onslaught mother nature has in store this coming winter.

Harvest festivals at church are social affairs but it is not necessary to have to be at church to appreciate what we have around us, we need to open our eyes, take time out, chill and just be thankful that what nature has given us she also hasn't taken from us.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Longtown Mart. Annual Border Ewe Sale 2011

Longtown Mart comes up in conversation often when Shep is working around the countryside. There are many I work for send their sheep across to Longtown to be sold claiming it is the place for horned sheep, especially store or fat lambs.

T'was whilst talking to one such person I admitted that I had never been to Longtown Mart, this remark was met with sheer disbelief quickly followed with the offer of a ride across for the ewe sale. I didn't refuse the offer, especially as there was a decent entry of South Country Cheviots on the day, my curiosity over these little blighters never fails to get the better of me!

The Annual Border Ewe Sale is a sale of hill sheep, catagorised as North Country Cheviots, Border Cheviots (southies) and horned sheep. A good variety of sheep to view and breeding sheep at that. It is always very interesting to see what sort of sheep come off farms you have heard of but not dealt with. A breeding sale gives you the opportunity to view the stock off these farms you're unfamiliar with.

There were a variety of ages of sheep forward on the day. Some stock sheep being sold due to dispersals, these were sold in regular ages (from ewe lambs right through to the older ewes). It was a bit disconscerting that the sheep being dispersed of totaled 1,100 out of the total catalogue entry of 8,772.

Anyhow, Shep was quite excited and trotted off with on Wednesday 28th September with a couple of farmers over into Cumbria to visit Longtown Mart for the very first time.

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Looking down the pens at Longtown Mart with a pen of South Country Cheviots from Cowburn in the foreground, these 5 year old ewes made £84.

As the photo shows it was a roasting hot day - quite unbelievable for the time of the year, summer had arrived but for a very short spell.

I have to admit to being a tad taken aback when wandering around the pens of sheep outside. There were many which had been well turned out for the job, which is what I am accustomed to, however there were equally as many which weren't. By turned out for the job I mean a bit of pride taken in them - dressed, tidied up, mebbes even coloured, which is usual for anyone selling breeding sheep, they want them to look their best for the occasion. There were some which looked like they'd just been dragged in out of a field or off the hill without a second thought which seemed strange when it was the annual sale of breeding hill ewes.

Everyone to their own though, there isn't the staff around that there used to be and there are many older farmers around so maybe it just isn't practical to spend time trying to make your sheep look their best. As it happened the trade was very strong and it seemed to make little difference as to the quality of the animals you were selling.

I was told by a neighbouring farmer whom I bumped into that often the poorer end or second draws of ewes may be found at Longtown, whether this is the case or not they sold well, very well. The same man also told me he had grave concerns about me, apparently every time he sees me I'm looking at Cheviots rather than Blackies! Umm.......

On that note I would disagree that the South Country Cheviots were represented by the poorer end, there were some high quality sheep on offer and the prices reflected this

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These South Country Ewe lambs from Castle Crawford sold for £90 with ewes off the same place realising £180

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The ring at Longtown is able to hold a fair number of sheep as shown in this photo of the Glengeith ewe lambs with a hundred or more lambs being sold to cut (bid then say how many you require, the number you require is counted out of the ring with the remainder being put up for sale again). However I have to say the ring does not show off breeding sheep to the extent the ring at Hexham Mart does, but then the Hexham ring was purpose built for the job of selling breeding sheep and it does a very good job of it.

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I couldn't help but take a photo of these Swaledale sheep, they were well turned out for the job, a pleasure to see come into the ring and I thought I ought to show that there was more than just cheviots present on the day. I foolishly did not record where they were off or how much they made but Swaledales were in demand on the day and draft ewes were up to £126 per head.

All in all it was an enjoyable day out, in good company and very interesting. I can at least now say that I have been to Longtown Mart!

Longtown Mart has a very good website, which also includes videos of some of the sales and a good selection of photographs, so anyone wishing to see how sheep or cattle are sold at an auction could take a peek at