The Farming Year in the Hills: Summer

June, July, August

Selling lambs

The weekends were usually followed by weighing lambs to go to sales on Mondays, Tuesday evenings, and Wednesdays, so that gradually the sheep dwindled from a blaring mob to a few peacefully grazing late lambers. We kept the strongest and best ewes to lamb again with us, but the ones who were worn out were sold at auction and frequently went for Halal meat - mutton being a favourite in the Yorkshire Asian community.

A wide horned Blackface, whose own lamb had died and whom I had had a struggle to persuade into adopting an orphan, was distraught when the orphan died also. She accepted a third in record time, which was a relief after the fights we’d had earlier. Fortunately number three seemed to thrive, and she went around cheerfully getting fat again after her ordeals.

Selling at auction was entertaining or boring, depending on whether you were at your own local auction or somewhere further afield. The nearest to us was Kirkby Stephen, where there was usually a good selection of neighbours with whom to converse. Penrith Farmers’ and Kidd’s Auction ran evening sales in the 1990s and you were usually there from mid afternoon until dusk and later. The parking available at any of the sales was very tight and many a time I have sold my lambs early and been unable to leave until much later because of being blocked in by other vehicles.

Time was passed by entering your lambs and running them to their pens down the alleys crowded with conversing farmers in wellies, waterproof leggings and jackets; chatting to neighbours; maybe going through the passageway by the Black Bull onto the main street to do some shopping; getting some tea down you in the little kiosk set up in one of the cattle buildings; keeping your paperwork in order for the auctioneer; hoping the lambs would not lose too much weight while standing about before going over the weighbridge into the ring; and that they would catch the fancy of at least two buyers and ensure a decent lot of bidding. Many small hill lambs went from Kirkby Stephen mart to Russia and other exotic locations where their size was not the main consideration. (ref)

Haytime

This has its own section: Haytime.

Clipping

Yearly backache and cramp for shepherds (especially tall ones) - can involve hiring a neighbour to bring a clipping machine or hand shears. Always involves setting up the stall ready for the work to be done, Shepherding and then catching the ewes in the pens one by one for the shearer. Hill farms used to combine to clip each other’s flocks. Some dairy farmers, though, were less than keen on the work:

David Trotter:

We would have a flock of happen about forty sheep. And I would get up about 5 o’clock, when they were lambing - never got any extra for it - just did it for love of doing job right like - and I lambed them all, and then when it come to clipping nobody wanted to know. I’d to go and bring me own sheep in, I was the only one with a dog! When I left and brought Jan home with me, they had no farm dog, they haven’t one now! I’d all sheep to bring in myself into t’yard, and all me own sheep to catch, me wool to lap and everything, they all found summat else to do when sheep was to clip. Owt to do with sheep and they didn’t want to know.

The Black de Char Sheep

Willy remarked that he had a new breed of sheep. Its fleece was grey - a delightful, soft smoky colour - and he claimed it had twins each year. Other than that it looked like a rather ordinary Swaledale. Jennie kept rare breeds, and she saw the said sheep in Willy’s yard while the men were resting during clipping. She admired its colour and asked what it was.

"It’s a foreign ’un, a Black de Char," said Chris, Willy’s son. "We just have the one at the moment but she’s got twins, a tup and a gimmer, so we could be breeding more shortly." "It looks good," said Jennie, seduced by the French name - something similar to Bleu du Maine or Rouge de l’Ouest? "What’s the wool like?" The men looked sideways at one another. "Come and feel it," said Chris, leading her down the dark and greasy shed to the heap of newly rolled fleeces. "Lovely shade," said Jennie enthusiastically as she approached, envisaging sweaters, perhaps even a fine jacket, of that delicious pearly grey. When she put her hand into it - she found the fleece was full of ash. The old ewe and her twins had been in a field where a hedge had been recently laid and the brashings burnt: they’d been sleeping in the nice dry ashes of the bonfire. The men of course were nearly dying of laughter at having got one over on the "lady with the rabbits on stilts". ( ref)

Clipping is followed by rolling up and sorting different coloured fleeces for the Wool Board, marking the newly naked-looking sheep with suitable colour to distinguish them from the neighbours’, then turning them back into the field. Where, before long, they need:

Dosing

A sheep’s worst enemy is another sheep - worms, and worse, lurk. Hence Shepherding (see above) in order to treat present or future infestation. Involves: dosing "gun", connected by plastic tubing to backpack of custard-yellow worming mixture; minor swearing. Some entertaining protection against sheep liver fluke can be gained by keeping ducks.

Foot trimming

Chiropody for sheep - to prevent or cure athlete’s foot between the cleats, foot rot and other nasties. Another cause of "Shepherding", and an extremely frequent cause of backache for shepherds. Those who have been trimming feet can usually be identified by their Terramycin-purple or copper-sulphate-blue freckled faces and hands.

Showing

Not be confused with showing off. Primitive breeds of sheep now have their own classes at agricultural shows alongside the more commercial flocks. Basically agricultural shows are intended to make sure the sheherd doesn’t get bored with the bit of time off during the break between clipping and turning out the tups in the autumn for the work to begin again....

Saving Eggs

"I forget, now, what Black Hen and her cousins consumed from my flower garden; I know it was a lot. They certainly cost me a lot of money. On the value of the alpines that she ate, Black Hen ought to have been producing half a dozen eggs a day.

"And eggs are all very well, but what do you do with them in spring and summer when all your hens are laying? Does anyone sell waterglass anymore? I ran out of egg boxes and trays. I made sponge cakes; I whisked useful sized groups of eggs into plastic tubs and bags and froze them; I even sold a few, but passing trade was small - and friends and relatives thought our eggs should be free. Looking at what the hens were eating, I knew they shouldn’t." (ref)

Spare hay for sale

John Gate:

"This man Jefferson, he come around to truss the hay so we could sell it. Now then he had a horse and cart and he set to work. He’d one of them hay knives, gey sharp, he’d cut a dess [block] o’ hay out. He didn’t actually gan into t’ sides where it wasn’t solid, he just cut the solid stuff, and he could cut it out to perfection.

"And then, he had two long pokers like that, and they went and sunk down into it, they each had a crook on, and he’d lift it [the hay] up and pop it into his trussing machine, which was just made of wood like a kist [chest]. Then he’d press it with a shaft like on t’ blacksmith’s bellows, he used to pull that down, to get it as much pressure as he could on, and fix it, and he’d put string round it. Then hay and straw dealers, they came with hoss and cart and took it away."