Thursday 12 April 2012

Lambing Arrangements

Night lambing. My official shift commences at 9pm and runs through until 9am. As is the norm with lambings I am remunerated by a fixed pre arranged amount of money per shift. There are some I know of who go away to do a lambing and charge an hourly rate, this arrangement does not suit Shep. I have never lambed on an hourly basis, much preferring to go with the fixed rate idea over a 12 hour shift.

The fixed shift idea gives flexibility if that makes any sort of sense. Yes, my hours are pre arranged but when dealing with livestock you cannot always just walk away at the fixed finishing time, sometimes things over run, occasionally it all goes in your favour and an earlier finish may be possible. What will be, will be and at the end of the day it usually balances out. Also those employing you know exactly what the cost to them is going to be over the duration of the lambing.

So it is then that I am employed on this particular farm, to do a fortnights night lambing followed by three weeks hill lambing (day time, outdoors lambing), with the option of an extra week at the finish if required by the shepherd (which to date has always been required).

I have a cottage to bide in for the duration. It is sparsely furnished but comfortable enough comes complete with oil fired Aga and an open fire for which wood and coals are provided. The two downstairs rooms are all that I use, the sitting room has a put me up bed in it. Basically I am camping in a cottage which is much more comfortable than camping in a tent I can tell you.

When I first came to do this lambing five years ago I was concerned that it was a self catering job. It is usual to get fed by someone throughout the day, often the shepherd or farmers wife will accommodate the feeding but there was to be no offers of food for this particular job. An arrangement was drawn up whereas I get a food allowance and a freezer was installed in the cottage and it has to be said with the help of the Aga I find it is no great hardship to have to fend for one self.

The food thing was an issue I learnt the hard way. I got quite a shock a number of years back when I headed down to Leicestershire to do an early lambing. Back in those days it wasn’t unheard of for Shep to do three or four lambings through the season, heading away down south in late January/early February and finishing back up home in May.

I had had an enquiry from the south of the country through a connection near to home, would I consider going to lamb for an Estate in Leicestershire? I never commit to any lambing before I have been and seen and so I arranged to go down and visit the farm, look at the set up and decide whether or not I would take the job.

The set up seemed alright, the shepherd I was to be working for seemed clued up and conscientious, the sheep looked to be in good physical condition. Living arrangements I was told were to be in a caravan which I guessed would be alright for the duration. I agreed to head back down in the February and lamb for them.

Foolishly I had not enquired about food. Every lambing I had done up until that date had automatically come with meals, admittedly some had been living in conditions with the farmer or shepherd and their families, others I travelled to but still got fed. I had overlooked a serious factor on this occasion and learnt dearly.

Upon arrival for the lambing I took up residence in a caravan, a very small caravan. My bathroom was to be the workshop toilet, complete with oil, grease and swarfega........... The canteen? Well, that didn’t exist I was told, self catering was the answer.

Many miles from home I found myself in a caravan parked outside the estate workshop with one gas ring inside, a small gas oven and empty cupboards........ They were empty an’ all. No cutlery, no dishes, no pots and pans, no sink other than the one in the workshop toilet along with oil, grease and swarfega!

Bloody hell! Six weeks ahead of me..........

It was a nightmare scenario and foolishly I didn’t have sense to go to the Estate office and grumble, but then it had been an oversight on my part, I was responsible for not making sure of the arrangements, for all I had gone to the effort of travelling down there and looking the place over I had overlooked one very important issue and was about to pay dearly for the oversight.

I found myself begging and borrowing utensils, the shepherds wife gave me their camping gear, tin plates, tin cups, tin pans for a primus stove, knives and forks which clipped together to keep them in their ‘families’. I had to head out into the strange countryside and track down a supermarket and find some food. I believe I survived on biscuits, beans and bacon. The other half came down one weekend with a food hamper of home baked goodies and eventually as friends and acquaintances were made offers of meals came through, I never turned them down!

There was another issue. Washing. Clothes needed washing as did my body. I bought some bathroom cleaner and set about the oil, grease and swarfega covered hand basin in the workshop toilet, it remained squeaky clean for a few hours before the men at work once again came to work but regardless of how clean or dirty it was my body wouldn’t fit into it, there was not room for a bath. Strip washing wasn’t the most pleasant of experiences under the circumstances and even I was beginning to hold my nose in my own company!

As already said over time I got to know the staff on the farm, being quite a large estate there were a number of workers - shepherd, stockmen, manager, tractor drivers, forestry workers, workshop workers – all men, which is fine with Shep as that is how life is generally with farm work, I spend the majority of my time working alongside men. However I now found myself in the position of enquiring whether their wives would mind if I popped over to have a bath or shower.

Fortunately for me most were accommodating, I tried to share the job around, not hassling too many too frequently, I visited an array of bathrooms over the duration of my stay, often turning up with a pile of dirty washing under my arm as well – I made some good friends although there were odd ones who appeared somewhat frosty, maybe their husbands had reputations I was unaware of, or maybe they just didn’t like the smell as I entered their houses!

I recall one especially luxurious bath time, a deep bath had been run for me, full of bubbles, a lovely spacious and warm bathroom, probably the grandest bathroom I have ever been in, there was a steaming cup of tea at the side of the bath and warm freshly laundered fluffy towels – god it was bliss! However, I never returned. Rightly or wrongly I don’t know, maybe I was just being far too sensitive, a fault that I apparently possess. I am often told that I am too sensitive to other people’s feelings.

Anyhow, the luxury I was offered had all been laid on by the man of the house, which was very kind, but the lady of the house did not appear to be too enamoured with my presence, she did not seem to share the same enthusiasm for my company or thoughtfulness and kindness that her husband had shown, it left me feeling uncomfortable, more so for her than myself and so, for all it was one of the biggest treats I had during my stay away I declined all further offers of bath night at that house.

It was good to get home, the sleeping bag I had crawled into over the six week duration was itself just about crawling by the time it headed into my washing machine, it had been very tempting to just drop a match on it I can tell you!

You live and learn, mistakes are made and it pays to learn by them. Here I am now content with my lambing arrangements. Self catering it may be but absolute luxury compared to some conditions I have found myself in in the past, there is hot water on tap, baths every day, full of bubbles too, warmth and comfort in the cottage, hot food, washing machine – what more could a gal ask for?


Dawn said...

I'm enjoying reading your blog, your photos are wonderful and tell a story of thewir own, and then your writing just grabs me like a good book.
Found your blog via someone on ravelry and love reading about the realities of sheepherding, thank you for sharing it with us.

Dawn (a happy spinner!)

Tarset Shepherd said...

Hi Dawn - thank you very much for your kind words. Pleased someone enjoys reading my ramblings, lets hope I don't disapoint in the future. keep spinning!

Dawn said...

(Oh goodness me, sorry for all the typos on my comment - I probably hadn't had a cup of coffee to wake me up!)

Tarset Shepherd said...

Hey Dawn - life's too short to worry about typos, dyslexic keyboard I call it