This year started with a bang, literally.
Jack and I were moving some roofing sheets and as we went over the bridge the wind caught the sheet and blew me and it over the bridge.
It is about a 8 foot drop and I landed on my back, thank god Grace wasn’t with me. It reinforced the whole health and safety thing.
I ended up breaking my back which means a brace and another few months of resting. In the words of the Dr “ Think Sofa slob for 3 months” I am doing my best but it is frustrating after being off with the C section, of course it could have been much worse so I shouldn’t complain. It also means I have an up to date blog!!!
I have lots of help from mum ( Grandma Helen), I think it is probably so she can spend all her time with Grace!!!
Poor Jack has all the work to do again, he loves to work though so he does’t complain too much. The ewes are to feed daily and some of the cows are inside so to scrape out and feed. The 25 Highland cows are still outside and get a bale of hay or haylage in the back of the Canam, honestly Jack should be a rep for them…the places that Canam goes!
I put Imp in pup to Chance and they are due on Valentines day. It is a repeat mating as I liked the first litter so much so I am really looking forwards to them. Jack got a Fell pup from one of his old bitches,there is also a Bitch called Roxy from a different line so it will be nice to see how they develop.
Jack got a young fell dog ( Tag) sired by his dad’s Tig, he is now around 8 months old and already a very good work dog. If Roxy turns out to be any good it will be a girlfriend for Tag and the start of a new line. She is only 9 weeks old , I don’t think she knows there is so much pressure on her to be a good’un.
I am almost back to normal by now, my fitness level is still useless but I can train young dogs again and do the farm work. Feeding the tups and fat lambs in the shed are all doable.
Grace just fits in, I either take her out in the buggy when I am training or leave her in the kennels with the dogs….in the buggy of course not actually in a kennel…that might be a good idea when she is about one and a half!!!!
The youngsters are turning into lovely young dogs, I am enjoying working with them . One especially is coming into her own, she is from my first “Winter Crag” litter and is sired by my old Finn. She hasn’t been hard to train but we have had to work hard, at her first exposure to sheep was barking with her tail held up like a Husky! .
As time went on she developed into a fantastic dog to work with and train, she has quality and stye but a strong instinct to please. Just shows how you can’t judge them too soon. I plan on make her one of my main dogs. She ran in a few nurseries and I was happy but due to the baby and work load I didn’t manage to get to many trials. She is still young enough for next year so with a summer of work under her belt she should be more experienced for next year. Her name is Winter Crag Star.
The ewes are away at wintering and I sometimes go with Jack to check them/ dose them. Grace comes to do the farm work ,either parked up in a safe place in the buggy or in her car seat in the Canam/ Pickup. We don’t have doors in the Canam but she sits in the middle seat, if it is really wet we can use the rain cover! She loves it though, 100% an earth child.
Jack is away bellying in the auctions at this time of year so we just try and juggle it so everything fits in well!
It was our first wedding anniversary at New year, we didn’t really do a lot as the house was rented out to guests so there was nowhere for friends to stay. I think next year we will have a party!
OCTOBER/ NOVEMBER 2019
We got a few new Shorthorns from a sale at Longtown. An older in calf cow with a bull calf at foot , a younger heifer and a heifer in calf. There are a few shorthorns now, enough to have a small herd of pedigree females and a herd prefix of “ Winter Crag” .
We also bought a couple of Shorthorn bulls, only planned on one but took a gamble on a young bull and I think he had not been used to ticks so he didn’t leave the cows in calf. That meant an emergency…a few hours of detective work and we found a beautiful White Shorthorn Bull, neither of us are taken buy the white ones but he is a beast…people often mistake him for a Charolais. I heard that a white bull on Highlands often leaves a roan calf so looking forwards to them!
Due to the C section Jack has all the work to do, I didn’t realise how painful it would be. I stayed in hospital for 20 hours then went home…safe to say that was the most painful car journey I have ever been on. I didn’t realise how many stomach muscles you use just to go around a corner or over a little bump in the road. Ladies, I don’t reccomend leaving hospital so early!!!
Jack went out and bought the new tups( he did a good job, I approve haha) we needed and then looked after all the ewes with their different tups. Picking different groups for different tups and then Marking them daily and changing the rud colour. I made the odd trip out with him, grace strapped into her car seat in the Canam, it was great to get some fresh air!
Parent hood has been great so far, Grace is so laid back and just fits in with us. Both sets of Grandparents are madly in love and she is such a ray of light and laughter!
A few friends and family have pitched with the daily chores of looking after the dogs whilst I have been out of action so they have been a massive help!
We actually took her up to Oban to buy some ShorthornX Highland females and she was good as gold, they said she was the youngest baby they had seen there at a month old!
AUGUST/ SEPTEMBER 2019
We usually get our sheep clipped in August , most farmers have had their sheep clipped and there is more time to spend with our own. There was bit of extra help this time, I helped out but climbing over gates and chasing sheep around is frowned upon when you have a baby growing!
We also spain the Male lambs at clipping time , most of the ewe lambs go back to the fell with their mothers for a little longer.
You could really see a difference by not castrating the lambs, yes they did have more horn but they also had a lot more body and substance than previous years.
We bought some Highland cows in calf to the Shorthorn bull at the start of the year. They have been interesting to have as they hardly make a mark on the ground compared to the continental breeds, they also love to stand in the river.
For the last few years have had heifers from a Dairy cow and a British Blue sire, then mate them to a Limousine bull. We would then calve them and sell with calves at foot at around 3 months old. This system does’t really work up in the fells so Highlands are the way forward…we hope!
So far they have been productive, the calf pops out and is up and going very quickly. The mothers are a little touchy when they first give birth but soon settle down and allow you to get closer.
The plan is to keep the females to start a breeding herd and hopefully let the males grow slowly on grass and then sell the meat.
I had more time to spend with the dogs in these month as I was due at the end of September so I could keep taking youngsters out and get them going. The pups from Chance are turning into nice dogs, keen , early starting and very trainable with natural ability. He seems to click with my Finn line which is great.
Bilbo also sired a couple of litters and they are looking good on sheep, more forwards and pushy than chance pups but still nice ability. Trouble is that he is related to most of my dogs.
At the end of September We had our baby Girl. one day I was in for a routine checkup, they found she was breach. She had been the whole time as her head was right up in my ribs but as a first time mum I did not argue with the midwife when they told her head was down…it was of course her bum! The day after I went for a C section and Grace arrived!
JUNE /JULY 2019
Most of the ewes and lambs are at the fell so there is less work at home.
The mule lambs are down on the lowland and growing well, we have quite a lot of stock down there so they need shifting to different fields about once a week. This is great work for young dogs , I usually load the Canam up with a older reliable dog, a young gun that needs to learn the ropes and a couple of pups just for a ride out. I am sure I look like a crazy dog lady at times!
This is Jack’s busiest time of year with the shearing. The phone goes mad every night around 7pm as everyone expects him to be home!! His round starts with the lowland breeds such as Mules and Texels then as the season goes on the fell ewes which are mainly Swaledale and Herdwick. Sometimes he helps a friend who does a few Cheviots. It works well as the lad that works for him often goes and does the flocks out Cockermouth way whilst Jack can do flocks closer to home.
I had the Pink Ribbon Sheepdog trial on our land at Pooley Bridge this year , there was a really good turn out and it was great as we raised about £250 for Cancer Research UK. The trial is aimed to support and encourage Beginners and young handlers to get into sheepdog trialling. It was started in memory of a lovely lady , Jill Fairweather.
There was a lot of fabulous prizes donated from Ceri Rundel at CSJ and Herdy UK with the ISDS providing new handler packs. I will be holding it again next year, if you would like to learn more please visit the Facebook page : Pink Ribbon Sheepdog Trial 2019.
May was another busy month as we opened the upstairs of our house to Air B and B. There are 3 bedrooms capable of sleeping 6 people , a bathroom and we also turned one bedroom into a Kitchen. It was a nightmare trying to get a tradesman to come and fit a kitchen, I don’t know if it was too small a job or if people just can’t be arsed anymore! Anyway we managed to get a close friend to donate her husband for the job.
As soon as we put it up online there were enquiries so hopefully this time next year we will have a lot of bookings, every little helps!!
Jack went clipping down south for around 3 weeks, they clip much sooner than us so it is good to get some in before the season starts in the Lakes. The sheep down south are usually Texel/Mules , Suffolk/Mules and heavy breeds so it is a good workout before coming home to the smaller fell sheep.
This is also the time that the fell ewes and lambs go back to the fell. This is quite a labour intensive job as each lamb needs to be identified with an ear notch in each side / ear tags ( double for the females and single for the males) , treated with spot on for Ticks and click to prevent fly strike. Rubber rings on the tails and balls of any Texel cross lambs. We decide to keep the Swale and Herdwick Males entire so that was one less job.
The ewes and lambs also get a fresh smit mark.
We have three different stocks of sheep so they all have different ear notches and smit ( Coulured marker) marks. This can take some time as you have to pair each lamb up with the correct mother, the lambs have no marks on them so you really have to pay attention. The singles all lamb in 3 fields and the twins in seporate fields so usually there isn’t too much mix up with twins and singles .
The single lambs are all marked first as they can go back to the fell as soon as they are strong enough. The twins do go back to the fell so the female lambs learn to be hefted but they aren’t out there until later in the year as the grass in the inbye fields is more nutritious and supports the ewe better when she is rearing two!
I usually take a heap of ewes and lambs into the corner of the field and slowly work away at them , keeping the stock of sheep I want and letting the other stocks drift back into the field.
My little Bitch Imp is a pro at this, she loves it and nothing gets away by accident.
As I was pregnant it took a bit longer than usual as I had to take care not to fill the pens too much and if I got tired I made sure to take a break!
Overall we have a good crop of lambs, stronger and more of a type. Onwards and upwards.
March /April 2019
The end of March is lambing time for the Draught Swaledale ewes, they were mated with a Blue Faced Leicester tup and will produce the North of England Mule.
“Draught” means the ewes have come from the fell, they have been drafted out of the flock due to them getting older and potentially struggling to survive out on the fell so go on to better pasture where they will be looked after throughout the winter. Most of these ewes will have lost some of their teeth or be starting to lose them which is why they would struggle to keep good condition if not looked after a bit better. The older ewes which are “ Broken mouthed” as they have lost several teeth and may have wobbly teeth are sold on. They usually go to a lowland farm and can be used for either Mules or to be crossed with a Texel/Beltex. The Mule is a more valuable lamb for us and these Draughts will often have twins. The Male goes into the food chain and the Female will be a fantastic , milky mother who is valued for her breeding potential.
This time of year is all go,go,go! All the stock need checking several times a day to look for problems and to make the lambs. Problems can be as simple as a first time mother being baffled by the little wooly creature that has just popped out of her to more serious such as a lamb stuck in the ewe as it is too big or a ewe with “Twin Lamb” that needs an energy boost.
Twin Lamb is more common in the older ewe as her body has to work harder to support the growing lambs inside her. It is basically a lack of Glucose , it can be triggered by a sudden change of weather / lack of feed and other factors. The signs usually start with a ewe hanging back from the flock, listless, not wanting to get up, head tilted back. We treat this with a specially formulated “ instant energy” supplement that is given orally .
The crossing ( draught) Swales are kept a few miles from home so there is a fair bit of running about to do. Thank god for the Canam we have, it runs on Gas so saves a lot on fuel. It has a canopy on so is great for chucking any problems in the back or carting bags of feed around.
When the Mule lambs are born we put a coloured tag in their ears, this identifies the Sire. In an ideal world we aim to produce well put together lambs, good skins ( wool) plenty of growth and the Black and White Butterfly mark on their white faces, Black feet and Knees and Black up the back of the hind leg. Black markings in the female fetch a premium price, it is all fashion and does not mean she will breed a better lamb than her sister who may have brown and white markings or more white on her face.
Everything lambs outside apart from the pure Blue Faced Leicesters, they lamb in the shed where we can keep a close eye on them. They stay in a couple of weeks and then go out to the lowland ground for the Summer. They are inside to lamb as they aren’t a hardy breed, they have fine wool and the lamb would struggle to get up and going if it was born on a wet, muddy day ( which it often is). They are also our Pedigree flock and we have spent a long time deciding who is mated to who so the lambs are very important to continue improving our flock. You either love or hate Leicesters, they need a bit more TLC than other breeds and can pass to the other side easily if not checked regularly…a good first sign that they are thinking about leaving this world is floppy ears…if you have them then get some antibiotics into them ASAP!
The fell ewes start later on into April as there is not so much grass on the inbye fields at the farm. They are hardy and often wild girls, they are checked several times a day but generally left more to themselves unless there is an obvious problem.
They are more likely to leave a lamb if you fiddle about with them too much. The Shearlings ( first time mothers) are the worst for this, they are flighty and very aware of people so are better left alone and kept an eye on. As long a they mother the lamb, lick them dry , talk to them and want to protect them then all is ok.
Sometimes they have two lambs and mother one but leave the other , sometimes they forget they even have one lamb and then we have to intervene!
They will be caught and taken to the shed into a pen where she is close to the lamb and we can keep an eye on them. The lamb will be given colostrum, either milked directly from her or made up from the buckets of powdered colostrum. The best scenario is to get the ewe to stand still and let the lamb suckle her, some ewes need tied up using string round the horns until she realises that the little wooly thing that keeps pestering her is infact her own baby and needs her!
Safe to say there isn’t usually a lot of time for dog training at this time of year. The main work dogs are used but no youngsters are taken to work. The odd occasion I get time I would take them for a quick blast round the training sheep.
This year was a little different as I was pregnant so I had to keep away from wet lambs and catching any problem sheep…not the easiest thing to do!! Luckily we had a friend over from America, she learned quickly and was a great help. We did a swap, lambing work in exchange for dog training lessons and bing able to work with different types of dog.
February / March 2019
These are the two "count down to lambing" months, the weather is cold and a lot of days are filled with a drizzly rain. The fells are still as stunning but the winter winds whip through the valley and are constantly biting at any exposed skin!
The days consist of the daily feeding and scraping of the cattle, tidying up outbuildings and one the sheep are home they have a daily ration of feed.
The evenings draw in early….the best time for curling up in front of the fire with a good book and preparing for the busy months ahead.
I bought Jack some Pedigree Shorthorns for his birthday in July and we had a gorgeous little heifer calf " Winter Crag Evita". Unfortunately we lost her mother a short while after she was born , we were gutted about this. It is always sad to lose an animal, especially one you were so excited about but unfortunately that is part of farming. You have to take the thick with the thin and can either dwell on it or move on and use it as a learning curve. We managed to find a milking Dairy cow for her and after a few failed attempts at getting Evita to suckle we left her in with the cow and thank god.....she finally started to suckle! She is turning into a lovely young Heifer now..I must take some pictures.
Most of the ewes are away at wintering and last years wethers ( Castrated) lambs are also away.
Wintering is when the pregnant ewes and lambs still to grow on are taken off the fells and sent to low ground where there is still plenty of nutritious grass for them to eat. Most of the ground belongs to dairy farmers as they keep the cows inside throughout the winter, this leaves the grass free for sheep from the hills!
There is a fee per sheep per week and they usually stay there until they are close to lambing.
We go regularly to check on the wintering sheep, it takes a lot of time as it is an hours trip away each way. The ewes need mineral buckets to keep the lambs inside growing and the Wether lambs are sorted every week to see if any are fit enough to go to market. We try to sell all ours straight off grass for someone to buy and finish fattening before they enter the food chain.
We have to keep a close eye on their feet and treat any lame sheep as soon as possible, you tend to find sheep go lame on dairy farms very quickly. The weekly draw happens come rain or snow, sometimes it is hard to motivate yourself when you are wading through Icy mud in gateways and working in exposed pens …it always helps when you remember to bring a fiver for lunch! The cheque from the auction brings some comfort and inspires you to do the same again next week!!
The ewes come home in March and then we have to start feeding concentrates and Hay/ Haylege.
Last year we had a great summer and managed to make everything into Hay, this was a great saving to us as the bales didn’t need wrapped in plastic.
We managed to find a cheap electric snacker to go behind the buggy so this also saved a lot of hard labour, no filling up bags and carrying them this time!
I have finally managed to make myself sit down, concentrate and do my next blog entry.
I don’t know where to start, so much has happened since I last wrote!.
I suppose the biggest thing is that Jack and I got married on New Years Eve. After a busy few ( kind of too relaxed) months planning the day came and all went to plan, my thinking was that no one else knew what was supposed to happen so if it went wrong only I would know!!
I had loads of help from friends and family and owe them a big thank you….so thanks guys ( you know who you are!)
I recently bit the bullet and decided to cut down on dog numbers and only keep the best…let’s see how long that lasts haha. I seem to have a habit of collecting youngsters , bringing them on and liking them all. As you can imagine this is not the best situation to be in as they all get to the same stage and ready to train properly, then it is hard to find time to put into them. I had to be ruthless and if any had a habit I didn’t want to breed into my line then that was a decision maker!
I part of me is always sad to see them go, will they have a good life, will they understand someone else’s way of training, will the person like them and be kind to them? I guess that is one of the things with training and selling dogs. I try to be honest and often think "why am I saying this , it sounds like I don’t want to sell the dog” but they usually end up in a great home so it seems to be the best policy!
The dogs I have kept are coming on really well. Several are sons or daughters of Finn and the more they are trained the better they become, sometimes a little pushy at the start but once they know what they are doing they are spot on. I also have a granddaughter of Laddie that looks to be something special, I am excited about her. Her sire is Killiebrae Taff who is a son of Killierae Laddie and the one and only Scrimgeour’s Fleece. Her dam is a full sister to my Tally so the future is bright!
My new dog Chance is proving himself to be a worthy farm dog, good on bulk, brains that he uses to please and good on the fell. I have a few pups from him and it will be exciting to see how they develop.
I thought it might be a nice idea to start a blog to document progress and let people know what is going on up in these here hills!
I have never been much of a writer but here goes...
So, it has been a whole year since Jack and I put on our adult pants and took on the tenancy of our Hill farm " Winter Crag". It was a scary move for both of us as there were so many unknowns ( and of course there still are, many due to Brexit).
We were moving from a small holding with 60 acres, close to town and easy to access to a Hill Farm up in the wilds of Martindale with 100 acres of inbye and fell rights spread out on three different Fells. We would go from lambing around 300 ewes to 1200 of our own, it was a scary but exciting prospect. From Winter Crag it takes roughly 20 minuets to get to the closest town ( Penrith) and we both thought long and hard about taking the jump.
We did a few sums, talked to the bank and wrote out a list of pros and cons. We both grew up on Hill farms but neither of us had actually run the farm or seen the profit and loss side of things, it was quite hard to compair to the smallholding as the quality of land is a total different kettle of fish!.
A good friend once said " If it doesn't scare you, then it isn't worth doing" . It is funny because after all the hours of thinking, the churning stomachs and the waves of excitement we both turned to eachother and quoted this. That was that, we bit the bullet and took the tenancy. I am glad that we did.
It has been an amazing year, very hard work,lots of late nights and always having to be a step a head to make sure the money comes in. It is worth it though as we both love the place and enjoy the work. We have managed our first year without any payments from the Government so it will be a welcome bit of support when they do come through.
The Fells here are amazing, the colours are ever changing and they are scattered with clusters of sharp jagged Slate shooting skywards. The first flash of green in the spring, to the beds of thick Bracken which start to tinge orange as the summer draws to an end. By October the fells are ablaze with Auburns and Coppers, the Red Deer are in rut and bellows echo around the valley as they battle to be top dog. The colours gradually fade and Martindale prepares itself for Winter.
We are lucky to get to work in them every day. I can honestly say that I look out in the morning and think how lucky we are to live in such a wonderful place ...I'm sure Jack would tell me to stop being so soft if he read this but I can see in his face that he loves the Fells as much as I do. There is nothing better than standing at the top whilst working your dogs and gathering your sheep in for maintenance. Jack even gave me the shock of my life and took me up to the top ...well more like dragged me up as I was pretty much breathing out alcohol fumes!! He dropped to his knee at the top and popped a shiny ring out....naturally I said yes!
I know I learnt a lot through gathering, it isn't quite the romantic " lets show our dogs off and wander through the beautiful mountains" type of job. It is more to do with team work with the fellow shepherds, your dog learning how to work the fells and getting the job done. There is no time for fancy work, just a case of getting the sheep down in quick and safe manner and getting them to the pens for dosing/ marking/ dipping etc. Our sheep haven't been so well hefted so there is plenty of work involving chasing pesky Herdwicks back to their bit of fell, this allows time for more fancy work as I often take a young dog and it learns how to respond quickly to keep hold of the sheep but still has to give nice shapes and listen to stops.
We have had all sorts of weather since we moved up here. It flooded shortly afterwards and I couldn't believe the amount of water there was. It also amazed me how quickly it dissapeared into Lake Ullswater, if it had been on the small holding it would have sat around for days!
It was interesting in the winter as we have a rather testing in and out road, there were some days we were stuck up here and others where we proably should have been stuck but dared it in the tractor anyway. We had to get out to feed stock so there wasn't much option. Luckily my mother taught me well and I always have a full larder ....it can be quite embarrasing in Aldi when I have a stupidly full trollly ( I always pick the small one too as "I don't need much" ) and have to try and slot it all back in like a game of Jenga!
It was a difficult lambing time as the weather did not play ball. The spring brought snow and rain which meant all the lambing fields were slush. We were lambing Swaledale ewes in lamb to the blue Leicester at this time and it amazed me how hardy these little lambs can be. Jack and I were frozen to the bone, had little inclination to eat as we were so tired and it was a slog. The farm next door lost their shepherd just before lambing time. We took on the job and that added an extra 600 ewes to our lambing total. I shouldn't complain too much as some farmers had it much worse than us and ended up losing a big portion of their in lamb ewes and their Hoggs which are future breeding stock. The sun came back though and that lifted everyones spirits, including the sheep! The pure Swales lambed away happily and the end was in sight!
The summer was roasting and it was almost too hot to do much in the middle of the day. The grass all burnt off and again, I was amazed at how adaptable the sheep were. The Fells were brown and crisp but at the top there were patches of lush grass so most the ewes stayed right out. We also rent a block of land down near the village and this was like the desert! Sadly, I lost my work and Stud dog Finn to complications from the heat. A very hard lesson but one I have taken on board.
Jack has a shearing business and was away at the start of summer . With the help of several lovely people, it would be a big rush first thing to get ewes and lambs in to ear mark / tag and treat for ticks ..(this is a big issue here) and then put them out to the fell for the rest of the summer. By 3pm it would be far too hot to put tick treatments on the sheep and paitence could wear thin in the old run down sheep pens we had to use.
The summer went on and the rain came in bursts which helped the grass to grow. The lambs started to bounce and it was exciting to see the quality in them as they grew. The pure Swales and Herdwicks were all marked and back to the fell and we sorted the Mule lambs into batches so they could be fed accordingly. The best Mule Gimmer lambs into a field of good grass and the rest of the Gimmers in a bigger batch on another good field where they could be fed daily.
The sales came around and we were pleased with our trade, it was a unusual year as the summer was so dry it has taken a while for the land to recover .You could see it had an impact on trade as there wasn’t as many people willing to spend their hard earned cash on sheep. We bought our tups and they will go out with the ewes shortly. We got a couple of Swaledales for the fell flock, several Herdwicks for the Herdy girls and my favourite....some well bred Bluefaced Leicester Tup lambs!
I haven't had as much time with the dogs but the time I have had has been more productive. I have a clear idea of what I want to breed and what I am looking for when buying a potential breeding dog. I can see the benefits of different lines and why different people may like them but I can also see what I don't want to breed and I am always on the look out for something that can improve and compliment my own lines!
Using them on this rough terrain has helped, it makes a dog think differently and they must adapt to the canny fell ewes. My main bitch Tally was a bit baffled at the start, as she had never worked on a fell. She is brilliant at everything else and I was quite disappointed that she didn’t take to rough ground straight away. Over time with practice during work, she has become very good . This has also been a good lesson to me. I expected too much from her and it just made me step back and think .....if you don't help your dog and put the time in then you won't get the best from it...never expect the world when the dog is completely out of it's comfort zone. She is fab now !
Anyway, in a nutshell it has been a whirlwind of a year which we will end by getting married on New Years Eve! We are both excited to see what our next year at Winter Crag brings and really encourage any other young ( or older) couple to grab the bull by the horns and take any oppertunity that is given to you!!