Thursday, 31 May 2012


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Oh... so refreshing! It rained, indeed is still raining. We are a funny bunch, complaining it's cold, then it's hot and now it's raining....... Shep ain't complaining, it was a pleasant change to have the wet stuff come out of the sky, fortunately it was mild with it which is always a help. Working in wellies and leggins again, top coat donned - a refreshing change it has to be said! Although it would be hoped it won't be a permanent fixture.

There was a down side to appreciating the mild soggieness of the day - midges! Them little monsters which so enjoy coming out to play in mild damp weather. They detest extreme temperatures, hide away on hot, cold or windy days but a day such as today was an absolute treat for them. 'Tis funny how ones memory forgets the discomfort these miniscule airborne characters cause, until....... they appear once again. A small price to pay I'm sure for being able to enjoy a refreshing showery day!
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The lamb marking season is well under way. It is almost three weeks since Shep returned from over the border and many lambs have been handled since then, hopefully another ten days ought to see the job completed on the farms Shep visits.

The lambs above have been shed off their mothers, easier to handle without ewes careering around in the pen with them, they are also less likely to get hurt as the adult sheep are more than capable of running over the top of these little chaps. The lambs will find themselves caught up and held up a height on the top rail of the sheep pens. There are a number of jobs to be done to them on this their first visit through the sheep pens.

These lambs were born from the 16th April onwards and so vary from six weeks of age and less, this is their first main health check. They will indeed be marked, with a keel mark to ascertain who it is they belong to and also what sex they are for easy reference later in their lives.

Every farm varies as to the tasks required doing to their lambs, some need to give lambs a worm drench, others don't. Then there are ticks, some need to prevent infestations of ticks on their lambs and again others don't. Some farms put a lug mark on their lambs, a notch or hole cut out of the ear by means of a set of lug marking pliers, this being a permanent reference to the ownership of those particular sheep. There are such a variety of tasks from farm to farm that it can be easy for Shep to get confused, having just got the hang of one farms preferred methods before moving onto another farm with different requirements. Doesn't take much y'know to befuddle the grey cells!
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Hoggs are finding themselves run off from the main flock as well, not that they are going to be lifted up onto the top rail of the pens to have bits and pieces done to them (god forbid!). No, they are starting to think it is time to be shorn......... Blimey! we're getting to that time of the year again!

Shep's been shopping - I know, women love shopping. Shep don't love shopping - never has, but this is different. A new cable for the clipping machine, the outer cable cracked towards the end of the season last year, was wrapped with tape to see the season out but now a new inner and outer cable has been acquired. Then there was the clothes shopping......... A new state of the art pair of shearing trousers, which fit! and look so nice and clean and respectable. Last years pair are still wearable, however, a lack of concentration caused a blip with the hand eye co ordination thing and a few stabs with the handpiece at the knees sees the jeans rather raggy in places - quite serviceable at the moment but I'm sure splashing out on a new pair wont hurt. After all, it is helpful to have one pair in the wash and a clean pair to put on.

The lamb marking season saw Shep back over the border for a couple of days, catching up with them there white, wild, woolly cheviots. MY lambs were looking well, it was so good to see them again although disappointing to find some were suffering from orf (watch these postings - coming soon!), on the other hand it was a relief to find others which were lame had foot scald and were not suffering from the joint ill type infection which a few lambs had gone down with towards the end of the lambing. The lambs were really thriving and weighed heavy when lifted onto the top rail of the pens to get the bits and bobs done to them, fortunately they don't have horns so injuries to the handlers were minimal. And guess what? Shep's lamb count was up on last year - now is that exciting or not? I was forever hopeful, especially with the number of twins (and triplets) which were born but I was also well aware that the Crunchylaw sheep may well have let the side down, the only cut lambed in an enclosure were the ones which suffered the most losses amongst their lambs. Fortunately for Shep the other three cuts of sheep which lambed out on the open hill brought the odds up and although not a massive increase on last years lamb count it was an increase - what a grand way to retire from a lambing!
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On that note I will leave you with a picture of one of my sets of triplets (there were only three sets). This ewe off the Auld Faulds cut nursed these lambs for five days before I had the opportunity to lift one and set it onto another ewe. All three are still running around the hill but as a pair and a single and now much bigger than in the picture.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

From chilblains to sunburn

Phew! has to be said Shep is feeling a tad hot and bothered. To think just a week or so back I had an attack of the chilblains, nasty little itchy blighters which rise to the fore in cold weather. Now I am finding myself frizzled to a frazzle and foolishly more than just a bit pink in the process.

The previous four lambings to this past one I travelled over the border with my car full of belongings and paraphernalia which included my ski pants, y'know, them things skiers wear when they're out on the piste. Now Shep does not ski, although I did once have a half hearted attempt, but I have found that when sitting astride a quad bike in the deep mid winter ski pants are indeed a god send, they keep the chill off and the chilblains away.

As said, the previous lambings and ski pants were indeed loaded into the car, it was generally cold and snowy when I headed north at the end of March for the six weeks lambing stint and I always like to be well prepared. I don't truly recall ever wearing these super warm overtrousers to any great extent at lambing time and so this year, with the hot spell at the end of March, I decided that really I had loaded enough stuff into the back of my car and there was no way I was going to need them there ski pants, they were left behind.

How wrong can you be? Those bitterly cold easterly and north easterly winds didn't half bite hard, coupled with the fact I donned the more holey than godly leggings on one of those piss wet mornings which ensured I got a good soaking to the skin - a very cold soaking at that, which very kindly rekindled the chilblain curse. A problem I haven't experienced for at least 12 years, one which I hadn't missed that's for sure!

Chilblains always make me think of toes, presumably coz that's where normal people suffer from the blighters, of course, not being exactly 'normal' I just have to be different. My toes have never suffered from the blighters (my ears have however). No, Shep gets chilblains on her legs, I just like to be different y'know! Where the top coat finishes and the legs begin, basically a third of the way down the outer thigh and there you have it........ nasty itchy chilblains. As said, I cannot truly recall when I last suffered from the blighters, I have to go back many many years to the days of lambing away out bye when I very rarely wore leggins due to lambing on foot and not liking to be hot and bothered. The sharp frosts very early in the morning, coupled with being caught out in an odd shower, plus any cold winds which blew would inevitably cause the chilblains to rise to the fore. I eventually gave in and wore leggins in an attempt of prevention and spent much time putting them off and on as I got hot then cold, but it worked and the problem was resolved. What a surprise then to get caught out this year, the leggins just weren't warm enough when sat on a quad during this past lambing.

I've forgotten the chilblains now, the weather has warmed up. Well and truly warmed up.

We seem to be receiving extremes of temperatures. The last week of March saw temperatures soar to 26 degrees Celsius, then plummet to low single figures for the duration of April and half of May, this week has once again seen them rise to ridiculously high levels. Tuesday was our first hot day 32 degrees no less. (bear in mind our outdoor thermometer does sit in the full sun from 4.30 pm onwards), I did think Wednesday was beyond a joke at 36 degrees but today tops it all at a sweltering 38 degrees.

My mother informed me that she had once been told that the easiest way to convert the temperature into what she calls "old money" in other words Celsius to Fahrenheit is to double the figure and add 30, for those of you who are pernickety the exact equation is to multiply the figure by 1.8 then add 32 degrees (mothers rough guide seems simpler!)

Anyhow, that then gives us temperatures of 89.6 / 96.8 and finally........ today (Sunday 27th May) .......... 100.4! A quick chase around the world with the help of Google tells me we are hotter than Greece and would probably have to shoot across to Saudi Arabia to match temperatures! Alternatively, we could just sit in the shade and find 26 degrees Celsius or 78.8 degrees Fahrenheit!

The heat is a welcome break from those increasingly distant memories of such a cold, cold lambing season. Bare fields are springing to life as the wet ground warms up and the grass shoots away, although some are already finding ground which lies close to rock with little soil cover is beginning to burn off - it seems almost unbelievable!

There's nowt like getting the sun on your back to give you a lift, both stock and man feel so much better when the sun shines down, or do they?

Sheep are heavy in wool, left to their own devices they are more than happy if shade can be found and we are lucky that there is a draught blowing, yup! the wind has got up which does help to cool one down, it also seems to help drive the burning rays into you as well.

I often wonder where my common sense lies. Working in a vest on Wednesday, out in the middle of nowhere, unaware the sun was blazing down in the high nineties Fahrenheit I suddenly became aware that my neck and shoulders were frying. I did have a T shirt in the car but that was a couple of miles away. I had a ratch around (hunt about) and unearthed a paper feed sack, then hey presto! a length of baler twine. Problem solved!

There was much hilarity and leg pulling as I tore the sack in half, poked a couple of holes in the top and then commenced threading baler twine through the holes which I then duly wrapped around my forehead. I dare say I looked a sight, I was indeed told I looked a sight but the following couple of hours in the afternoon sun were far more comfortable with my home made hat come cape than they would have been without it.

So! The sun on your back gives you a lift, it also brings with it its own problems. Sheep need gathering before the heat of the day gets up, early mornings will be the order of the day to get sheep into the pens safe and sound, once in the pens they too suffer from the heat, just as we do, then there is the question of returning them to whence they came. Time and patience is needed when moving and handling stock in the present conditions. Most importantly there is the welfare of the dogs to consider, they too suffer, running their hearts out in extremely hot weather is not kind on them.

Having said all that tho' it has to be said that it IS good to get the sun on your back, aches and pains subside and humours lighten of that there is no doubt!

Monday, 21 May 2012

Memories of a Godfather

NOT that sort of a Godfather! Good grief, this posting has nowt to do with the mafia, no! Seemingly when we are christened we are given Godparents, folks who are meant to stand in should anything happen the parents and ensure they bring you up in a God fearing way (or something like that!)

So, apparently, many years ago, Shep was bundled into a church to be christened. I don't recall any of this but there is some sort of strange photographic proof that indeed three people are gathered around a bundle shrouded in a white robe, the bundle seemingly was me, the three people had been specially chosen to have the 'honour' of being my Godparents. Two women and one man, apparently coz I'm a female Shep - my brother had two men and one woman coz he's a male (but not a shep!)

Shep couldn't have asked for better Godparents. A maiden Aunt from my fathers side became a great friend as I grew older, a large lady with a huge personality, a positive soul (which was needed when faced with double leg amputations), someone who possessed a huge heart, never spoke ill of anyone and had an infectious sense of humour. She was an absolute gem.

Then there was my mothers younger sister and her husband. Another Aunt and Uncle. My Uncle farmed, a tenant farmer, and many a happy holiday was spent at theirs alongside my two cousins (who were both boys, one slightly older and one slightly younger than myself). A mixed farm and by today's scale a small farm. A farm which one would probably struggle to make a living off in this day and age.

I loved it when I was shipped off to my Aunty and Uncles for a holiday, although I couldn't understand why I always used to bunk up with the lads at bed time and then suddenly found myself 'shed off' into a bedroom of my own as I got older, seemed unfair and anti social at the time.

They lived in a fairly typical cold farmhouse, stone floored dairy full of wellies and leggings and all sorts of strange farming paraphernalia. The kitchen smelt of carbolic soap and milk, umm...... I can smell it now. My Aunty used to make proper butter, the tastiest butter I have ever eaten in my life, plastered onto freshly baked scones and I was in heaven!

I would trot after my Uncle to 'help' bring the dairy cows in for milking. One of my earliest recollections of the 'farm' was of being in tears. I laugh now, almost cringe with embarrassment in fact. I could have been no more than a toddler as I followed the cows as they plunged their way up a track towards the milking byre. It had obviously been very wet weather and the track would be an awful slutter up, a true clart, a sea of mud and cow pats. Shep's little short toddler wellies didn't hold up to the depth of goo and before I knew it the goo went over the top of the wellies and slopped down to foot level. The tears started! (How did I ever make it into the profession I have?) My Uncle scooped me up in his strong arms (even though I was wailing)and didn't set me down again until there was some dry ground for my tender feet!

The years went by, cousins and I were allowed to pick the potatoes, eventually a tattie harvester was used and the job seemed easier if you were quick enough than running around the field with a bucket. We lifted turnips, now there's a tale to tell............ Youngest cousin and I set off one frosty morning with turnip knives in hands to lift turnips. I'm not too sure that permission had been granted, I think we had just decided it would be good fun and helpful!

Turnip knives are a little bit like a small sickle, a wooden handle with a curved and very sharp iron blade which has a bent hooky bit on the end. The turnips are in the ground, most of them above ground. With a sweep of the knife the hooky bit gets lodged into the flesh of the turnip enabling you to lift it out of the ground, drop it into your spare hand then deftly top and tail the beast with the curved blade of the knife. All was going well until my cousin got his finger in the way when topping and tailing. Oh my god! There was blood everywhere....... now what do we do? We'll get into trouble for this of that there's no doubt! It was a long way back up the lonnen (lane) to the safety of home but we got there eventually, leaving a trail of blood for anyone to follow. We didn't really get into trouble of course, although a strong lesson was learnt (my cousin went into banking in his adult life - probably a safer option!)

My godparents were hugely supportive throughout my formative years and probably had a huge role to play in determining my career. As I grew older and was deemed to be more responsible I no longer received an Easter egg to spread all over my face at Easter time, instead I received a pet lamb - my very own pet lamb! The very first was a black, bluefaced leicester ewe lamb which I aptly christened Sooty. Of course my Uncle bred Bluefaced leicesters and way back in those days black ones were taboo, I loved her tho' and she did get sold for breeding as well which was a great boost, all organised by my Uncle no less! I no longer had a pet lamb but I did have some pennies in the bank, it took the pain away!

Friday nights were cards nights, us and them would wile away Friday nights in front of the fire playing either Canasta or a game called Oh Hell! I was in my teens by this time and always looked forward to Friday nights. My Uncle had a great sense of humour and was a very patient, kind and caring person who had a pet name for his wife (my Aunt) of bunny (I always thought this was so sweet, especially from such a tough and hardened countryman such as himself).

He had 'cauliflower' ears. I never understood this in my early years, I fully understand now. Chilblains on his ears. Way back in those days a farmer wouldn't be seen dead wearing anything on his head other than a cloth cap. Over exposure to the harsh winter elements over the years had given cause for the edges of his ears to become almost deformed, a phenomena which in my very early years had me pondering about often, you have to remember, it was rude to stare and even ruder to ask.

A great sportsman, cricket, badminton and football in particular, a love which he handed down to his two sons. I liked neither cricket nor football - the ball was hard and could hurt. They were strong and proficient and could really wack a cricket ball and as for football, I was often put in goal and that leather ball really stung if you tried to stop it! I totally refused to play rat cricket. A great pastime I was always told!

Rat cricket was a winter sport. Corn grown on the farm was blown into the loft above the cow byres and then rats took up residence. Being great sportsmen and finding their cricket bats lying idle during these winter days the 'boys' had great sport wolloping rats off the rafters of the loft with their cricket bats, even way back in those days I had an absolute hatred of rats and no amount of cajoling would get me to join them in their sport! ( I think I have probably embellished this story, they wouldn't use their prized cricket bats would they?? I do believe shovels and broom shanks were probably what were used)

Time went on, I left home and started work. Uncle came to the rescue when I moved from one job to another and had no where to keep my 'pack' ewes which were in lamb. He took them onto his farm, lambed them for me and I turned up at the mart and sold them with lambs at foot.

It was just a couple of years later when early retirement was forced upon him. A hard decision to make, but due to farmers lung he was struggling to cope and the farm wasn't big enough to keep his eldest son as well. Years of dealing with loose corn in the loft, which was fed into a crusher, a noisy contraction which smashed the stuff up to make it safer and easier for animals to digest and also threw out a tremendous amount of chaff and dust coupled with dust from straw and hay was taking it's toll. Retirement was forced upon him and Shep couldn't bear to go to the farm stock sale, in fact I have never been past the farm since; the farm buildings are now a mini village, the farmhouse will be unrecognizable from when I knew it and I really have no wish to return.

It was a miracle, my Uncles health improved when he retired into a house which was centrally heated and he no longer had to deal with all those particles of dust and mites which his lungs had battled with for years. His retirement proved to be a happy one , gardening, sport and woodworking kept him out of mischief, I think my Aunt probably missed the farm more than he in the long run.

So there you have a wee few of my memories of my Godfather. My parents did a splendid job of choosing my three Godparents, they all had a huge and positive impact on my life. I now have only one left, it is what happens as folks get older, none of us will live for ever.

This posting has been written in advance, the date and time it is published is hugely significant.

I arrived back from my lambing on the 13th May. Last Christmas I sent out my usual round robin Christmas letter which stated to all and sundry that this would probably be my last lambing over the border and no one was to have a crisis whilst I was away, between the 1st April and the 13th May I was selfishly going to enjoy what may well be my last year with them their cheviots - God help you all if anyone spoils it!

I was well aware things weren't well with my Uncle, I even dongled on the computer for ages to enable me to order flowers to be delivered to my Aunt.

I received the 'phone call when I got home, to inform me that indeed he had passed away, on the evening of the 12th.

Now for someone whom I had loved dearly and who had reiterated that love, someone who sadly was suffering from Alzhiemers, I was awe struck that he seemed to wait until my lambing was over, I also thought it quite poignant that he 'chose' the farming term date an' all - probably coincidence, but I ain't so sure!

This posting will be published as I am gathered at the crematorium with all of those who have special memories of this particular man, as we celebrate his life and his love for life. The best Godfather I could have asked for, and hey! I get a day off at long last, a day to mix with my family and smile and laugh - Bless 'im!

Monday, 14 May 2012

Home once again

13th May saw Shep heading south; homeward bound.
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This gimmer was the last sheep to lamb on me, I went to the hill on the morning of the 13th to do my last round and here it is - my last lamb. I left a further 17 which were obviously holding on waiting for the shepherd they knew best to take charge again and see to their needs. It is usual for there to be only one or two left to lamb. This year proved to be different in so many ways.
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. There were some spirit lifting days. This was actually mist rolling in from the direction of home on the 18th April at 6.30 am, a beautiful sight, one which had also had me praying it wouldn't come all the way!
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Then there were the soggy days, when shelter was sought in the hope the onslaught would pass.
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Not just myself sheltering either, this protective ewe had her lambs as full as guns and they wouldn't feel the harshness of those Oh! so cold winds we experienced for what seemed like the duration of the lambing, tucked up warm and cosy in amongst the tussocks of grass they were quite content with life.
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Swallows arrived! They turned up on the 20th April and gave us all a lift, summer must be on the way!

I haven't spoken to anyone who has not said that it has indeed been a hattering lambing season, some younger than myself have wondered if they're getting older as they have found this year very tiring. That pretty well sums it up, this season has indeed been a challenge. I still enjoyed it tho'!

What will probably be my last lambing over the border has come to an end and once again I am home, it hasn't been the sort of lambing anyone would really wish to 'retire' on but we have indeed been very fortunate, everything could have been a whole lot worse. I don't get the opportunity to get my second wind, assistance was needed as soon as I returned and the monotony of hard graft continues but at least I am alive to rise to the challenges!

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Early May

I ain't too sure of the date but it is a Thursday and a notable day an' all. To start with the dongle wishes to work tonight................ my god! Slow it may be but at least it isn't crashing every ten minutes just when you feel you may be getting somewhere - now there's something of note!

I've got my car back. Yup! Shep has been car less for a week now, not that I've had the time to go anywhere but y'know, it's nice to know it's there should I wish to run away. Even better the nice man at the garage couldn't get the computer to sort up the bill, so I ain't had to pay for the new tyres, engine service and nasty expensive sounding oil leak. Doubt that'll be wishful thinking tho', dare say a bill will track me down eventually, I'll make sure I'm sitting down when I open it!

I shed in the Crunchylaw today, a huge disappointment as there are still a good number to lamb, there were also a few to many geld although it seemed at least half had kebbed (aborted) early on. Unfortunately the hounds are getting the blame for this. The farm is on the cusp of the ground of three hunt kennels, and were overrun with hunts and their followers prior to lambing time,it seems highly likely that it may well have been the last season for hounds running their trails on this particular farm.

Was that what made this particular Thursday noteable? NOPE!

The sun shone, all day in fact, there was no fog this morning which was a huge relief as Shep doesn't see through fog too well. The sun shone - did you get that, should I repeat it? The sun shone. I went off to the hill tonight in my jumper, discarded the top coat and fleecy jacket and drove off on quad airing my jumper as I went. Even more exciting was the fact I had my boots on and had been wearing them for many hours, wellies and leggings discarded for once, actually for the first time this lambing I donned my boots - now how exciting is that??

We've been very fortunate, there have been some crap days but going by the radio we are far better off than those drought ridden souls down south who are now complaining that it's raining, at least we haven't had all that rain. We have however had bitterly cold winds, and I mean bitterly cold. Easterlies, occasionally veering north easterly, bitter, bitter winds. I have been told that the old 'uns used to say when the wind got into the east at this time of the year it wouldn't shift for six weeks, that has caused me to frantically try and work out how long the easterlies have been with us - seems like forever!

The cold winds are causing problems, milk is going off some of the sheep, some twins are dropping off but then it's amazing how a mother can turn up for them, something which has a dead lamb is only too pleased to be given a replacement, that is what the twins are for after all.

There have been too many twins, I have twins still running on the hill as there was no room in the field for them, these are actually doing very well out there which is good to see.

I have just over a week left up here at the lambing before I depart for home, life isn't going to quieten down in those days, there is still as much ground to cover and as said too many sheep left to lamb, there are lambs going cripply which need attention, probably some form of joint ill which is an infection through the navel of a wet lamb which affects the joints of the legs - there's aye something! All time consuming tho'!

Sounds glum but it ain't, has to be said it has been a hattering lambing, tiring and the cold making you wearisome but it's still been 'fun', or ought I say a challenge? If it was all plain sailing we wouldn't get excited at a day like today where the boots were donned and the top coat shed - would we?