Sunday, 26 February 2012

In The News

There has been much for the farming papers to report about recently. A new record price for a limousin bull, sold at Carlisle Auction Mart a week past Saturday for £120,000 guineas. Guineas are no longer legal tender in the UK but there is still a tradition of selling pedigree animals at auction for guineas, a guinea equates to £1.05, therefore the said animal actually realised a price of £126,000 – very nice too! See for yourselves in the following link

The Scottish farming press have also reported this week that German farmers may well be on the way to doing all British sheep farmers a great favour. It would appear that the Germans are prepared to file a law suit with regard to EID. That being the electronic tagging which all sheep farmers now have to comply with, an issue that many are opposed to, but no one seems prepared to fight against. Well, it would appear that our counterparts in Germany are preparing to put up a fight, on the terms of animal welfare and overall financial costs, and rightly so.

There will be many farmers in this country who will follow the proceedings with interest, farmers who are nervous to speak out themselves about the ludicrousy and cruelty of the regulations which are being enforced upon them. Good luck to our neighbours over the water.

It is not just the farming press who are reporting on sheep issues, the national press are also finding livestock issues are hitting the headlines. Long covered by the farming papers since the virus first came to notice last back end, our national press have now picked up on the story. A worrying one for sheep farmers.

A new virus has hit our shores, carrying the name of Schmallenberg virus it is a relatively unknown entity which is causing stillbirths and deformities in new born lambs away down south. Todays press reports, some of which could be classed as scaremongering, are claiming that up to 70 cases have been confirmed in the south of the country.

It doesn’t seem long since our shores were faced with the doom of the Bluetongue virus, another expense for the livestock vector as animals found themselves being immunised against the virus. Similar to todays virus this one also started in the South of our country and was also reportedly transmitted by midges or mosquitoes. It is hoped Bluetongue may be history on our island but has it just given way to allow another virus in?

It can be easy for us in the North of the country to feel far removed from viruses which are causing havoc further South, but it must be soul destroying for those facing these challenges, and who’s to say we won’t be facing them in a month or two? After all, some countries in Europe are already worse hit than us.

By the press reports in all of today’s Sunday newspapers it would seem that mature animals don’t seem to show many symptoms relating to this virus, the symptoms are showing up when their offspring are being born, as yet our offspring aren’t being born, we will have a while to wait to find out whether the midges made it this far north. If lambs aren’t being still born they are being born with deformities such as fused limbs or bent necks, deformities which they will be unable to live with and so are finding themselves being put down (put to sleep – killed).

Deformed lambs are not unheard of, there may be cause for an odd one at lambing time. Still births aren’t unheard of either, again, an odd one may occur. However, by the reports I have read today some of the worst affected farms are seemingly losing up to 20% of their newborn lambs – that is an enormous loss and a huge financial loss at that. A heartbreaking position to be in for those involved. One farmer quoted said he had put down more lambs this lambing time than he has in his farming lifetime – not a good place to be.

Time will tell whether this virus fizzles out or not, how far through our country it has spread and whether there will be a vaccination introduced to treat against it (unfortunately it is reported that it may take at least eighteen months to produce a vaccine). To date it would seem it only affects sheep and cattle (and possibly goats).

As with many of these viruses (including foot and mouth) it is of no threat to the human race, other than those farmers whose stock are burdened with it, as they have the stress and worry to contend with, both physical and financial. Farmers are resilient souls but for some they and their businesses can only take so many knocks in life, lets hope they can get through this like they've got through everything else in the past.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Clarts and calamities

Clarts and calamities is actually the title of a book, written by a genius called Henry Brewis. Any one who has never acquainted themselves with Henry Brewis and his cartoons and thoughts about sheep and farming don't know what they are missing. If he were still alive today he would have a hey day recording all the modern day bureaucracy farmers and shepherds find themselves faced with. Anyhow, this posting is not about a book, just shares the title.
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Just the other night on the 6 O'clock news there was a report about the droughts down south. Drought? Seemingly it is true, there are five counties away down there somewhere which are seriously suffering from a lack of rain.
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I recall just the other day stating that the ground was drying up, admittedly it had a long way to go but drying up it was... then it rained again!
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Funny thing. Nature vs Man. Wouldn't you think if we were so clever we could divert this wettness we are experiencing and send it down to those less fortunate, those who are praying for rain. Would be good to be able to turn the tables, but we ain't that clever and turn the tables or divert the weather we can't do. Nature wins again!
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Moss doesn't take too kindly to getting his feet dirty, however he has little option through this gateway, neither did the sheep which we were slowly gathering on foot.
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Blocked drains may not be helping in some areas. Underground tile drains laid years ago get blocked with roots, tiles moving or the build up of silt which gets washed in with the water.
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Whatever the problem Shep had great fun spalshing in puddles, at least my wellies were getting cleaned!

So those photos explain the clarts (mud/mess). What about the calamity?
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Not truly a calamity although it probably looks that way. Dead sheep? Poorly sheep? Anyone who knows sheep will recognise the stance - lying on her belly, head flattened to the ground, lugs flattened, body looking tense. It's a sheep huff. Nearly, but not quite as bad, as a man huff.

A fit sheep (which can often be the case), she has just decided that enough is enough, it is pissing with rain, the ground is saturated and she ain't gonna co operate. I have to say a sharp boot up the backside will often see them lift out of their huff but this mule ewe was stronger willed than that.

Shep stood well back and waited. Coz one thing a huffy sheep is very good at is banging to her feet when she thinks it is safe to do so and then generally gallops off in the opposite direction to the one in which you intend her to go.

She raised her head to look around and work out where her mates had disappeared to, then sure enough like a rocket she banged up onto all fours and legged it. I had positioned myself in the field to ensure she had to move in the direction her mates had travelled, she wasn't likely to run towards me that's for sure!
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There she goes, nowt wrong with her at all, she was booling (charging) along like the devil himself was behind her. I guess it's the wild instinct in these sheep, as we so often see on wildlife documentaries, animals will often flatten themselves to the ground and pretend to be dead in an attempt to confuse their hunters, this hunter wasn't that easily confused!

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Pregnancy scanning again

Blimey! The seasons don't half come around at a gallop these days. Are the winter months getting shorter? y'know, those days when we get an opportunity to recharge the batteries and come out the other end fit and raring to go - them days! I'm sure there's less of them, this past winter seems to have flown by, here we are in mid February, the nights are fairly cutting out, almost light until 6pm now and we're well through the scanning season, another fortnight and it will be all over for the farms Shep works upon, everyone will know what lambs their ewes will be carrying in preparation for the forthcoming lambing season.
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Once again sheep are finding themselves heading into the scanning crates all over the countryside. Three different scanning men come to the farms Shep helps out at so the crack can vary from each visit as they all come from different areas of the countryside.
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The guys all have similar gear, all are extremely proficient at their job and fly through the sheep at a rate of knots. Could that be a lamb showing on the screen? That is what they are looking for after all.
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Sheep do like to follow one another but there are the odd ones which put up a fight and cause agro on the day, the men doing the scanning are generally patient as they are aware that those of us behind the scenes are doing our best to keep everything running smoothly.
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Scanning has been fairly well documented on this blog in the past, the following links will take you back in time or there is last years posting This year to date all has gone well, no reason what so ever why it ought not to continue along the same vein for the remaining farms which are to be scanned. There are 5 more farms for Shep to assist at in the next fortnight, a rough total of about 5,000 sheep between them and a fair bit of gathering for the dogs to get all the sheep cornered and ready for the scanning day.

The scan men are reporting that ewes are heavier, not heavier in lamb (although some are) but body weight, that is quite apparent when working with the beasts, they have come through the winter very well, the mild grassy start to winter saw them well covered and not much has interfered with their welfare since. It is good to see flocks heading towards lambing time in good physical fettle, much can happen between then and now, not least the fact lambs will begin to drain their mothers bodies as they grow inside their tummies. Let's hope all goes well in the next month or two.

Monday, 20 February 2012

tagging sheep. EID

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Tags. Destined for sheep, their ears no less. A legal necessity and one thought by many to be an unnecessary necessity.

It often seems that since 2001 the world has gone potty, and probably going dafter by the minute. EU regulations came in force post foot and mouth which required all sheep to be tagged, Traceability was the word used. A single tag with the holding number had to be inserted into the sheeps ear. Eventually it became a single tag with holding number and individual number per sheep.

We are moving on in the world and since 2010 it has been necessary for all breeding sheep to have a double tag. TWO tags, both with the holding number and corresponding individual number, to add insult to injury one of these tags must also be fitted with an electronic gadget.

EID. Electronic identification. Which by law must be done to sheep which are to remain in the flock within 9 months of birth. So it was, Shep found herself tagging sheep and not for the first or last time this year either.
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Sheep weren't meant to have tags stuck in their lugs, they don't like having tags stuck in their lugs either.
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Sheep don't have a say in the matter and neither do the farmers seemingly, 'tis the EU who think 'tis good for the sheep industry to spend about 80p on each sheep to ensure it can be traced.
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There are choices in colours, however the electronic tag is always yellow.
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As said each pair of tags has an individual number, god help you if you don't concentrate and manage to muddle up the numbers, they must be the same on each pair fitted into each sheep.
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Should anything go wrong one tag will have to be cut out of the ear and the pair discarded. In the above photo the tag was misfired, finding it clipped together without the ear in the middle, the yellow tag had already been successfully inserted into the ear which meant it had to be cut out. 80p wasted, a cost of £1.60 to tag one sheep.
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Then there are the tags which fail to work properly, it is sometimes possible to straighten these out again and manage to reuse them, however on this particular day Shep had two which refused to co operate. Another £1.60 down the drain.

All tags used have to be recorded, any found missing are meant to be replaced, more paperwork for the farmers, more expense for them too. Being electronic means they can be electronically read, which is indeed the whole intention, it won't be long before we're not just handling sheep in the sheep pens but we'll all have to have a computer on hand as well.

Sheep destined for slaughter just require one tag. The first thing a sheep loses at the slaughter house is it's head, which includes its ears - how does that then help the traceability of the meat when the tag has been chucked in the bin full of heads?

Thursday, 16 February 2012


Some could call it day dreaming, I call it reminiscing, something which I seem to have been doing a lot of over these past few months - a sign of age? Probably, but also a sign of recalling happy memories.
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I need to do some hunting around for photos taken many years back to be able to reminisce properly on these pages. These sheep and this view hold strong memories
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As does this old harness, amazing what jogs your memories when you find yourself tidying buildings out.
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This spuggie (sparrow) perch has a story to tell
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As does this old chain.

Twenty one years of memories held on one farm, good memories, fun? memories, memories that are history - quite literally. Some day I'll share some of them on these pages, once I've hunted in the archives - back to the days before digital photography, back to the days when shepherds weren't as rare as they are today.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

A week in February

We're into the middle of February already................ Eek! Where is the time going? Shep hasn't been idling, at least not this past week. Here follows a photographic diary of the past week.
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It started by gathering some sheep ready for scanning the following day. They were gathered a day early and held close to the sheep pens as the weather forecast was threatening snow, as indeed it was doing as Moss turned these sheep and headed them closer to home. That was last Saturday.

Sunday saw Shep assisting at a couple of scannings.
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The first scanning of the day was helping a friend out,someone who has just taken the step up from shepherd to farmer. The first time for them to scan their own sheep and good results were the order of the day. The scan man hid in his tent, couldn't blame him, a covering of snow and -8 recorded first thing had us all wishing we could climb in there with him.

The weather conditions found Moss and I jumping in with the scan man, hitching a lift to the second job, the sheep I'd brought closer to home the day previous. The farmer later reunited me with my motor when scanning and dosing had been completed, by which time the treacherous road conditions had given and car and I had an uneventful journey home.

There was little snow of mention but frost held out all week. Night temperatures varied from -10 to as warm as -2 over the duration of the week, far more fortunate than those further south whom experienced -16, Brrr... bet that was cold!
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I had a few days in the company of these Galloway cows earlier in the week, I see quite a bit of them at the moment, they have been receiving a bite of cake (hard feed) and are keen to follow the bike around, as I was patching some fences in the vicinity where they live they seemed forever hopeful that they would receive more than one feed in the day. Intrigued every time the bike was moved to a different stretch of fence, was this a sign of more food??
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Going by the circumference of this one it doesn't look like they need any more food, in all fairness to her these cattle are only a few weeks off calving so they probably have an excuse to look portly.
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Then there was the moon, blimey! It wasn't half bright, t'was like driving into the sun in the dark. I was away out bye when I took this, a late finish with the fencing then a desire to find out what a police car had been up to saw me arriving home very late, and I may add none the wiser.

A dead end farm road in the middle of nowhere sees a police car on it, now my attempt to leave my job of fencing and hit the road before the police car returned failed and said car sailed past. Which I thought was a tad ill mannered. After all, out in the middle of no where on private property isn't the usual place to see the police, they are meant to be observant so surely ought to have seen me and quad, 2 dogs with 20 cattle following us heading towards the road. Well I thought they would have noticed but obviously they saw no reason to stop and have a crack and let me know what they were playing at.
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Not to worry, thanks to the police car I had time to appreciate the beauty of the moon that night.
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As the week went on this was a common sight.
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There was ice everywhere.
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Even the wettest of bike tracks appeared to be well frozen, this may look like puddles of water but in fact it is frozen solid, which made me decide to do a job I never relish. I had a list of possible jobs, the fencing was done for the time being, another on the list was to head out to the neighbours hill, that unfenced march between one farm and another meant sheep will have wandered over onto ground which they do not belong, as it was hard and frosty I decided to be a good bairn (child) and head out to send them back onto their own ground. I've often mentioned on these postings that I do not enjoy this particular task but it needs to be done. The neighbours ground is ungrazed heather, very rough, steep, undulating and just scary at times. However, I concluded that due to the hardness of the frost at least I wouldn't be able to bog the quad bike, I might get stuck by some other means but I couldn't possibly bog it. Could I?
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How many swear words do you possess in your vocabulary?? Chances are I tried them all and added a few new ones to the list. How could I possibly bog the b****y bike??? What a prat!!

Bikes work by means of a thumb throttle, which means one hand has to be able to reach and use the throttle leaving only one arm to do the lifting and pushing. Well I lifted and pushed 'til I had no energy left to swear and still the b****y bike was stuck. I wasn't carrying the gizmo, that satellite tracking thingy, not that it would have helped as the batteries are done in it, and anyhow, it is for an emergency, not for a prattish act like this. Fortunately I had had sense to carry my mobile 'phone and eventually walked into an area which had reception.

Mobile 'phone reception is not a strong point in Tarset, you're more likely not to have reception than have it but there are odd pockets, one of which I walked upon. A weak signal tho' which cut me off twice. My first call went like this "Hi! just me here, are you busy? just wondered coz need help..."
Oh! that didn't go to well!
Second call went along the lines of " Will cut to the chase, am away out bye am stuck and need......"
Oh dear! I was starting to worry that the recipient of the calls might be beginning to worry.
Finally all was sorted and a quad was heading my way from away down the valley to pull me out of my predicament and as to "where will we find you" I replied that I would be walked away in by the time they arrived - but only just I may add, they either drove like a madman or else I dawdled.

My 'phone a friend did the job and bike was extricated, although not as easily as I had imagined, there was still a fair bit of lifting and grunting necessitated - now you would think I would learn wouldn't you?? We had a crack and I found out what the police had been up to, a new bobby on the beat had looked at a map and decided to acquaint himself with ground he didn't know, 'tis good to know but I still think he could have stopped and let me know that he was just being nosey, but there you go, who am I to question the manners of the police?

I never did succeed in heading out to that ground I never relish visiting, the day had flown by after all the excitement of rendering the bike immobile for a duration. The following day saw freezing rain, an unpleasant phenomena which saw Shep decide to baton the hatches down and knuckle down to some book work, the years accounts are at least now up to date, thanks to freezing rain.
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The week was rounded off with a warm job, a job which will hopefully see us warm next winter too. The tail end of some hurricane in the summer kindly toppled this tree over, it won't be enough to keep the home fires burning all next winter, especially as it has two households to feed but it will be a help.
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My job is that of mad axe woman, unfortunately the chainsaw had had a couple of days head start on me so for all my best endeavours I felt like I wasn't really getting anywhere fast. I ought to have been out gathering but due to the temperature lifting the weather was giving us hill fog making visibility too poor for gathering the hill sheep in, so mad axe woman it was.

A week in February, another week gone by. A week in which I saw many foxes, an ermine stoat, a very cold looking kestrel, many buzzards, ravens, and other birdy things including a pair of crossbills, a cropped and long distance shot of one which I will end this posting with.
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