What would the animals choose?

Small producer, larger producer – where would the cattle and sheep rather be?

Q: How do you tell if someone is a smallholder or a farmer?

A: The latter drives their sheep to where they want them, the former calls them (and they don’t understand being herded.)

A sweeping generalisation, of course, but a good indication in many cases.  Another is that the smaller keeper names all their animals, and uses their names; a larger farmer does not – and of course there are many exceptions to that generalisation too.

As a farmer farming over 1000 acres and over 500 breeding sheep, my smallholder’s heart led me to name one or two sheep amongst the many.  I found it useful to, in addition to scanning the whole flock for issues, also have one or two sheep in each batch that I specifically looked at.  I learned their personalities and subtle foibles, and was often able to more quickly spot if something might be amiss, by watching these well-known individuals.  One in particular, whom I’d named Judith (for no particular reason), became a real asset in the lambing shed, as I found that she always seemed to know who would lamb next, and would lie nearby to them, giving us several hours’ warning of an impending birth once we realised.  And also, perhaps more importantly, allowing us to know that we probably safely could skip the 2am check, if she was with no-one in particular at midnight!  

Something else that surprised me was that, in most cases, the ewes I was watching became more tame, in a few cases even coming to eat from my hand.  As far as I was aware, I was treating them no differently to any other sheep, except that I took more notice of them, and probably did speak to them and use their name.  Over many months or a year, several of these individuals seemed to become more accustomed to my presence, and to be more comfortable with my being closer to them.  As they tended now to be closer to me, so did the other sheep in general become less watchful and more relaxed with my close presence.

When I moved to an upland farm, working with a lifelong hill farmer with his established beef cattle and sheep, I again picked out a few sheep to identify and check.  We found it useful to compare notes about what we’d each seen on feeds and checks, so he too began to use my names for some sheep.  Of course he knew all his cattle individually, and their entire histories, but I found it harder to remember them as “the one I bought at Wooler”, as I hadn’t been there then, or his other ways of identifying them, so I began to name the cattle too, and again, he was happy to use my names so we could communicate unambiguously about the stock.

He genuinely cared about his cattle – not just as economic units – and they were mostly pretty tame anyway, so I’m not sure I could say that naming them had any effect on their level of tameness.  He was also in the process of switching from Charollais and Limousin bulls to an Angus, and that in itself was calming the youngstock down.

I learned much from him.  Not least, the kindness of culling.  It was a hard place, up above Hadrian’s Wall, just below the moorland line, and an animal who struggled one winter or spring was unlikely to fare well the next.  His method was to cull any animal who had shown weakness, taking the cull ewes to market as one of his products, and the cast cows also went to the meat ring before they were too poor to fetch much money.  He explained to me that it was not a kindness to keep them on for another pair of lambs or a calf, that the next winter would be too hard on them, and they’d likely founder or at least struggle.  It was kinder to send them off before they came to that, and to spare them a decline or illness – or worse.  He wouldn’t sell ewes to other farms lower down, even though they’d probably manage another year or two in a less severe place, being concerned that they’d be pushed too hard, and also that many of them would be hefted to his farm, and be nothing but unsettled if moved.  I’d bought a couple of batches of draft Swaledale ewes when I was on the moorland farm, and it was true that they had been unsettled for at least the first year, and did not fully merge into the existing flock for a considerable time.

A few times I pleaded for a particular sheep or cow, and once or twice he gave in.  And I learned to accept his judgement, having seen the alternative.  Taking one of Judith’s lambs from her, when her udder couldn’t manage to feed them both after her mastitis the year before – apparently cured, but proving in the end to have taken its unseen toll, as he’d predicted – is a lesson I’ll not quickly forget.

Some would think him a hard-headed commercial farmer, putting profit before welfare.  And he did manage to make a small profit most years, even in years when his neighbours struggled.  But what those profits enabled him to do was to invest back into the farm, upgrading facilities and equipment, making life easier for himself and me, but also improving the conditions for the livestock.  Out went the cattle stalls his father had put in and in came the new-fangled cubicles with cow mattresses – genuinely comfortable enough to sleep on yourself, if you’d wanted!  Mobile sheep pens came in after a tragic accident on the road led to the slaughter of five sheep.  Insurance had compensated him for the sheep that were killed and the dry stone wall which was demolished, but he spent far more than that purchasing mobile penning that enabled us to work the sheep in their fields, rather than having always having to move them along the increasingly dangerous country lanes.

The livestock may not have been “loved”, but they were cared for proficiently and expertly.  If they needed a treatment, they got it.  If the vet was needed, he or she was called.  I never saw him leave an animal to suffer because its life was worth less than the veterinary visit; he never did his sums that way.  If, as he reflected on the year just gone, the veterinary costs had been excessive, we’d explore the reasons why and try to address them – extra minerals before lambing, fewer moves of pregnant sheep, making a note never to use that bull from AI again, or whatever we felt had been the causative factor – but if a cow or a sheep needed the vet, then the vet was got, and the money was never even discussed.

Now compare this to life on a smallholding.  

When you’ve 35 cows, 230 ewes, the cost of calling the vet once or twice a year is spread across all those animals.  When you’ve 2 cows and 9 sheep, calling the vet twice a year is a significant expense, and can be unaffordable.  

When the flock needs a preventative or treatments, the farmer buys the meds and gets the sheep in over a period of days, and treats them.  The meds are generally available in pack sizes for 50 sheep to 100 sheep to 500 sheep – but not for 5.  And they often expire within months of opening.  So the economics for the smallholder are such that some treatments and preventatives are prohibitively expensive.  Even the dosing equipment can be a significant expense (but is often free with a 200-head pack.)

The outcome of all of this is that, in my experience, farmed livestock might not be treated with much compassion for their feelings, and generally (though not always) without “love”, but their welfare and medical needs are met.  They are fed well, their health is maintained, if they need to be given shelter it is provided, if they need veterinary attention, they get it.

Smallholders’ animals are often named, often loved, usually handled gently and with compassion.  But they don’t always have all the elements which make up good welfare – perhaps there’s no shelter from the sun, from flies, from the rain.  Perhaps they don’t get wormed, fluked or given ectoparasite treatments routinely, and consequently are sometimes ill or uncomfortable for a while before the problem is resolved.  Perhaps they get tended through illness by their owner, when the vet could have resolved the issue more quickly.  Often, too, the owner has a “day job”, and can’t always see their livestock every day, or take the time to deal with any issues there and then when spotted.  Perhaps the holding lacks handling facilities, so that when an animal needs to be caught or housed, something has to be rigged up, which may result in a delay or even an injury, and often in more stress as the animals are put though an unfamiliar situation.  

If I was a sheep or a cow, which would I prefer?  Having a name, being always handled gently when handling is needed, being able to eat pellets from my keeper’s hand?   But sometimes being uncomfortable or sickly for a while before anything is done, sometimes lacking somewhere dry to lie or a shady place to escape the flies.

Or being “just a number”, being handled proficiently but perhaps without any verbal reassurances from my keeper, but always having appropriate feed, bedding and shelter, and having any treatments promptly and often preventatively and therefore being generally in tip top condition?

Of course there are farmers who do not maintain their livestock in the best condition, and there are small keepers who spend and do whatever it takes to have their sheep or cattle in excellent conditions and condition.

But don’t assume that a small keeper, who names their animals and clearly loves them, is providing a higher standard of welfare than the farmer down the road who drives a new Mitsubishi pickup.  The farmer’s animals may well be healthier, less stressed, fitter and happier than the smallholder’s.  



Who am I?

My credentials to be making these observations are from both sides of the fence.  

I’ve farmed – proper commercial farming, on the moorlands and uplands of Northumberland and Cumbria, with extensive sheep and beef – for ten years, and now am smallholding in North Cornwall, on a 32 acre holding of which approx 18 acres is available for grazing.  Here, we keep a couple of house cows and a small flock of mixed sheep, buy in weaners and chickens as needed, and aim for our community of 20+ adults and 10+ children to be as self-sufficient as possible in meat, dairy, eggs and wool.  We do grow veg and fruit, but the land is clay, exposed, and not really ideal for much besides grass.

I’d loved animals all my life, tried and failed to become a qualified vet, taken a totally different career track but ended up in my late forties deciding to explore a life on the land.

Smallholding was always more my style than “proper” farming, but the opportunities didn’t fall that way, and I ended up buying a 1,000+ acre moorland farm, with hefted flock (530 breeding ewes in total, mostly Swaledale, with Mule ewe lambs our primary product) in Northumberland, in partnership with an experienced farmer.  Cupid had other ideas, and after a few years I sold my share in that farm and went to partner my new man in his established 440 acre upland Cumbrian farm, farming commercial sheep (around 250 breeding ewes, mostly Texel type, producing many of our own replacement ewes and a fat lamb crop) and extensive beef (35 breeding cattle, mostly Angus crosses, selling most of the progeny as stores at 10-16 months.)

On the upland farm, my beau indulged me, and I started a flock of rare breed sheep, quickly moving on to a mixed fleece flock as the handspinning bug took hold of me, started a tiny pig herd, and established a few Jerseys as both house cows and real contributors to the farms’ outputs, in that they all reared their own plus several bought-in calves, along with giving us milk for the house.

There were tensions between my more smallholding style and the organisation of the commercial farm, but we managed well enough for a few years.

Eventually, after ten years in farming altogether, I decided that my increasingly arthritic joints were not suited to Cumbrian winters, and I looked for an alternative.  I didn’t want to stop being involved with livestock, but I didn’t want to be the only person caring for them, and when I found a Cornish cohousing community with small mixed farm, the combination appealed, and I, along with a much reduced flock of sheep and a couple of Jerseys and two followers, moved south.


The issue of humane slaughter

I want to write about the issue of non-stun / religious, sometimes also referred to as ritual, slaughter.

Yesterday, there having been an e-petition achieving the requisite 100,000 signatures, this issue was again debated in the House of Commons.  You can read the full transcript of the debate here http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmhansrd/cm150223/halltext/150223h0001.htm#15022324000002

I found the debate illuminating and thought-provoking, and would like to share my thoughts and conclusions.

I welcome constructive comment and factual correction, corroboration or explanation, either by comment on the post here, or, if you prefer, by personal message.  (If you are not sure of my personal contact details, please post a comment, stating that you do not want it made public. As I understand it, I have to moderate all comments, so I will not publish any comment if I am asked not to do so.)

The Facts, as far as I understand them

The British Veterinary Association has expressed its view that animal welfare is best served by animals being stunned prior to slaughter.

In the UK, as in the rest of Europe and much of the rest of the world, it is the law that animals are stunned prior to slaughter.  However, certain religions hold beliefs which require them to slaughter animals in specific ways, which are, or may be, inconsistent with pre-stunning.

In the UK there is a derogation permitting properly licensed abattoirs to conduct slaughter without pre-stunning where religious practices require this.

In the majority of UK abattoirs, stunning is accomplished by the use of a captive bolt to the brain.  An animal which is not subsequently slaughtered would not recover from this bolt.

In certain UK abattoirs, stunning may be accomplished by means of an electric shock across the brain.  If the animal is not subsequently slaughtered, it could recover from the electric shock.

Some organisations hold that to effectively stun a bovine by means of electric shock, it must be shocked across the heart as well as across the brain.

All abattoirs have captive bolt equipment in addition to any electrical stunning equipment, and will use the captive bolt should an animal be found to be conscious and suffering.  All abattoirs have veterinary staff in attendance at all times, whose duties include ensuring that no animal suffers unnecessarily.

Jews are required to eat only kosher meat, which must be slaughtered under the shechita regime.  The animal must be fit, healthy and conscious when slaughtered.  Slaughter is by a single cut of the knife, the cut severing the jugular and carotid arteries.  Jewish belief holds that the manner of the cut renders the animal insensible instantaneously.  Shechita practitioners undergo rigorous training to ensure that they are able to administer the cut correctly.

Not all animals, nor all the meat from animals slaughtered under the shechita regime, will be deemed to be kosher.  Meat which is fit for human consumption, but is not kosher, which includes the hindquarters of all animals slaughtered this way, will be sold into the non-kosher meat markets.

Muslims are required to eat only halal meat.  The animal must be fit and healthy when slaughtered.  Certain imams have concluded that, as an animal can recover from an electric shock across the brain, it is acceptable that animals be first stunned by means of an electric shock across the brain before the throat being slit.  Not all imams interpret the requirements this way, and it is for the local imam to agree the practices which must be followed in the local halal abattoir.

It is believed that approximately 75% of the meat slaughtered in halal abattoirs in the UK is pre-stunned.

No abattoirs in Scotland are currently practicing non-stun slaughter.

There has been research which has concluded that animals feel pain when their throat is cut and do not feel pain if they have been stunned prior to this, so long as they have not come round from the stunning prior to the cutting, of course.

There has been no research into whether or not animals feel pain, and if so, for how long, if they are correctly slaughtered under the shechita regime.

There are occasional so-called “mis-stuns” in abattoirs, where the captive bolt does not render the animal unconscious.  I have not been able to ascertain any figure for this.

Certain other countries have mandated the use of a post-cut stun, either in every case and immediately after the cut has been completed, or if the animal is not unconscious after a prescribed amount of time.  The time limits vary from country to country and from species to species.  In Finland, Austria, Estonia and Slovakia, all animals must be stunned immediately after the cut.  In Denmark, all bovines must be stunned immediately after the cut.  In Holland, it is mandatory to stun an animal which has not become unconscious within 40 seconds of the cut; in France, any bovine not unconscious 90 seconds after the cut must be stunned.

In some countries, the animals are inverted – strung up – prior to the throat being slit.  The practice of inverting conscious animals is illegal in the UK and there are no derogations for this.  In UK abattoirs, animals are supported upright and/or immobilised when their throats are cut; sheep in a V-shaped track and cattle with their head constrained and a strap under their belly, which will support them when their legs fold.

The emotive issues

Animal Welfare

All parties aim to minimise pain and suffering.  Indeed, it is part of the religious framework that the animals being slaughtered are treated and slaughtered humanely.

Jewish beliefs hold that the shechita regime is the most humane method of slaughter, and that when done correctly, the animal is rendered insensible instantaneously.  There is no research to either prove or disprove this.


Some of the parties clamouring for the abolition of non-stun slaughter may have a religious agenda, be it anti-Semitic or anti-Islamic.

Quite understandably, members of the Jewish and Islamic faiths are resistant to proposals for change where they believe their religion and/or religious beliefs to be under attack.


At present, some meat killed either under the shechita regime or in halal abattoirs enters the non-kosher and non-halal food chain, appearing on shelves and in products being purchased by non-Jewish and non-Muslim consumers.

Many such consumers, being opposed to non-stun slaughter and not wishing to unwittingly eat such, would like such meat to be labelled.

Given that some halal meat – in fact, the majority of halal meat in this country – has been pre-stunned, there is no appropriate information conveyed by labelling halal meat as halal.

As pre-stunning is never undertaken in shechita slaughter, labelling meat as kosher would confer the knowledge that the animal was killed without being pre-stunned.  However, not all meat slaughtered this way is deemed kosher, and therefore some meat is neither kosher nor halal, and yet was legally slaughtered without a pre-stun.

Therefore the only labelling which would be correct, informative and non-inflammatory would be to label meat as having been killed without pre-stunning, where this is the case.

Neither the Jewish nor Islamic communities require labelling of meat as halal or kosher, as their practises already confer this knowledge.  Therefore there can be no argument for the labelling of meat as either halal or kosher.

It is possibly the case, sadly, that some persons do not want to eat meat slaughtered in a halal abattoir purely because it will have been slaughtered by practising Muslims and will have been read a prayer as it was slaughtered.  This is discrimination on religious grounds, and therefore illegal.

My conclusions

This issue will make no progress so long as any religious group feels themselves under pressure for religious reasons.

Pre-stunning of animals being slaughtered will never be acceptable under the shechita regime, and therefore if the derogation were removed, all kosher meat would have to be imported.

There seems to be no religious imperative against post-cut stunning, and this is mandatory in some other countries.

I personally would therefore like to see the British Veterinary Association come up with recommendations for post-cut stunning that are acceptable to both religions.  As this would be an animal welfare issue, all abattoirs already carry captive bolt equipment, and all slaughter requires a vet to be in attendance, it may be possible that this can be accomplished within existing legislation.  If not, I would like to see the BVA propose legislation for the introduction of post-cut stunning for the purposes of ensuring animal welfare in religious slaughter.

In the meantime, I would like to see the introduction of labelling of meat and meat products which have, or might have been, slaughtered without pre-stunning.

Shetland Wool Week #1 – off to a good start

My first Shetland Wool Week started with a bang. Very literally. We’d hired a motorhome (first time in one of those too) and, wanting an early start to be at the Auction Mart for 8am prompt for the start of the Ram Judging, parked up at the Sumburgh Hotel and had an early night. Until, that was, a vehicle leaving the car park thumped into the front of our van.

Never mind, the impromptu pyjama party and possibly over-cautious (on our part) checkover by the motorhome hire company in the morning (no damage at all to the van) made us late for the show and sale but there was still plenty to see.

As you came in the door, the prize-winning fleeces demanded attention

Ah! So soft! I’ve had a few Shetland fleeces, some of them very nice, but I haven’t ever felt one as soft as this.

This one very nearly came home with me

but I resisted. There would be more opportunities to buy fleeces, I was sure.

The fleece score sheet was interesting. We’re hoping to have a fleece class at our local show next year, this will give us a good start!


The pirrie café (pirrie is Shetland for small, or wee, and is used everywhere) at the Mart had a new ‘food origin’ chart to help them publicise the local nature of the food offered. Impressed, I took a snap of it.


Keen to see how far they were on with the judging and sale, we headed for the pens and got our first look at Shetland sheep on Shetland.



Into the ring to find the judging still very much in progress.


The mart, as do ours, has wooden slatted seats. But unlike ours, it has cushions! (Shame they aren’t made of Shetland fleece, though, eh, Oliver 😉 )


There’ll be another post – or two or three – on Shetland sheep and fleece, so for now I’ll just cut straight to the chase – photo call for the champs.


(What was that about children and animals…)

The Wool Week Opening Ceremony was not until the following day, so we headed north to have a look around and find somewhere to park up for the night – hopefully uneventfully!


South Nesting – a grand place to wake up.

Yes, our Wool Week was off to a good start. 😀

More storm damage

Later the same day, after discovering that fruity seedy porridge baked on the stove-top for an hour-and-a-half is actually quite nice – a bit like bread pudding! – we found that at the other end of the farm there was a tree down, possibly making the fence it had fallen across no longer cattle-proof. The youngstock are up there, so they’d be all over the exciting new arrangements and into the neighbours’ gardens before you could say “Boundary”. It was another neighbour’s tree, so it would be his responsibility to remove it and repair the fence – and to give them their due, they were prompt in sawing up the tree and removing it. However, the fence was not fixed well enough, and as dark fell – and another wet and windy night it was – a call from the other neighbour let us know one of the beasts was in their drive, so himself was up there again, with hammer, staples and barbed wire, making the fence stockproof by the lights of the quad.

Storm damage

While friends called insurers to assess loose roof ridges, we with two quad bikes, two collie dogs and our very sprightly septuagenarian lady farmer neighbour showing us all how it’s done – she on two very fleet feet with no collies and no bike – sorted our sheep from hers in her field.

Our non-farming neighbour had called me from work to let me know that he’d come across some of our sheep on the road early that morning, and had put them in the field “next to ours”.  My heart sank – all our shearlings, commercial home-bred ewes going to the tup for the first time, along with the Texel tup who was serving them, would now be mixing with our neighbours’ horned Swaledale ewes and her Blue-faced Leicester tup. 

Leaving the porridge cooking, I had pulled on waterproofs, gloves and hat, collected the collies and zipped up there on the quad.  At first I thought I was in time; I could see in the distance some of our girls just starting to walk along a ridge in the direction of a group of Swales.  But when I got in front of them to turn them back I could see that this was the tailenders, the bulk of our girls were already mingling with the Swales. 

Back to the farm to apprise the boss.  Yes we should go and shed them (separate them) in the field using the bikes and my two collies.  En route I checked the field they’d got out of – making sure they had all gone, so I knew how many we were wanting to recover.  Strapped the gate open so we could drive them straight in once we had them gathered.

Back at the neighbour’s field and we could see her in the distance walking towards us.  I left himself to discuss the situation with her and set off to start segregating the sheep in the first of the two linked enclosures.  In particular, I wanted to make sure the two tups, hers and ours, were as far apart as possible.  Two tups of a different breed, who don’t know each other, each in the company of his own ewes and some very interesting newcomers, was a recipe for a fight.  And Texels can’t fight, ours would come off worst, maybe even be killed.

I wish I could have videoed the next 40 minutes or so.  We didn’t want to upset the sheep; newly pregnant ewes can lose their pregnancies if stressed, and/or go into physiological shock, so we kept it all very calm and quiet.  The two lifelong farmers, with over 100 years of reading and handling sheep between them, quietly moved their bodies this way and that, with the occasional soft whistle or shushing noise, and, as though choreographed the mingled flocks began to separate – white faces that way, black the other.  As groups formed and moved away, I brought the dogs between them and the sheep they’d left, keeping the dogs quiet and calm, mainly standing or lying down, not running or chasing, just guiding the group towards the correct flock.  The old dog will stay where put, holding the sheep with his experienced eye, so I could leave him to keep a group gathered in a corner while the youngster and I went off to help garner some more.  She won’t stay still for very many minutes at all, but she will always come back on command, so I can keep her from stressing the sheep by calling her off (“Thaddle doo”) and popping her back on the quad if necessary (“Onnna bike!”)

Job done, we drove the residents up into the top field and shut them in, then counted our own.  All present – 46 plus tup. 

Now just to drive them back to their own field, about half a mile away.  Again, wanting to avoid stress, we drove them at a gentle pace.  Himself in front, to stop the oncoming traffic, and myself behind with the dogs, holding the traffic back and nudging the sheep along if they straggled too much.  As usual, the first of the vehicles behind me couldn’t bear to hang right back and let me do my job, but had to drive as close to the rear of the quad as it could get.  If only we could make them understand how much more difficult this makes the job!  The sheep are used to the quads, to us and to the dogs, so can be moved steadily and without stress.  But they are not used to cars, so as the car comes up close behind they become worried and may panic.  They may run – too fast, they’re already a bit hot and bothered from the day’s events – or they may break and jump fences, dive into gateways, behind hedges and walls.  Then I have to block the road with the quad, get off and make sure the driver understands they must please Wait!, not drive around the quad and try to force their way through the sheep, and then I can get on with the job of gathering up the escapees and guiding them back to join the others. 

Eventually we arrived back at their field, and they flow through the gate to the surely welcome familiar grass.  We thank the inconvenienced drivers for their patience, then count the sheep to make sure that all have been brought home.  They have.  So far, no apparent harm.  The next 17 days will tell – if the tup gets busy, then we lost some lambs today.

A Rose by Any Other Name…

So, yesterday it was announced that the word ‘literally’ now has a second meaning.

Okay, I get that it is a living language and that as words and phrases move into common parlance, the dictionaries need to keep pace.

However, when a word which has a very specific meaning is routinely used inaccurately, it feels wrong to me that the inaccurate meaning, being now so widespread, becomes an actual meaning.

In the case of literally, the point of the word is to distinguish a case from the metaphorical.  So how now does one interpret “I literally fell off my seat.”?    According to the dictionary, that may now mean, as it always has, “I did, in fact, fall off my seat.”  However it may also now mean, as it previously emphatically did not, “I metaphorically fell off my seat.”

Imagine a scene 25 years hence.  Your will is being read.  (Sorry, if 25 years is too soon, make it 40!)  When your solicitor wrote, and you signed, that will, words had certain meanings.  In 2038, or 2053, some of those words will have become archaic, and some will have changed their meaning.  Do we really believe that executors and their legal advisors will be interpreting every will with a copy of the dictionaries of the period next to their elbow?

The world has literally gone mad.  Yesterday that would have been metaphorical but today I really mean it.

Sheep and washing machines – who knew?

Most of my spinning friends wash their fleece with soapy water before they spin, but I like to spin my fleece ‘in the grease’, which means with some of the lanolin left in the fleece.  So generally I just give the fleece an overnight cold soak, a couple of rinses, and dry it, zipped into a laundry bag, in the spin dryer and then on the airer.

Consequently, when I read posts on Ravelry, Accidental Smallholder and the like, warning me about the dangers of lanolin clogging the pipes of my washing machine, I figure this won’t apply to me.

I was taken aback, therefore, this week when a sodden kitchen carpet greeted me as I went to empty the machine…

Mopped it up as best I could, emptied the machine, checked the drain hose – present, correct and didn’t appear to be wetting the immediate area.  Couldn’t find the filter so looked for the instruction booklet.  Why is it that you can always find the instructions for the appliance you slung out 15 years ago but never the one for the appliance you are struggling with right now?!

Thank goodness for downloadable manuals on the internet.  Of course I checked my emails and forums, spotted a link to an ad on Gumtree, and thus ended my year-long search for a reasonably-priced Haldane Shetland spinning wheel 🙂   A helping hand from a friend nearby to the seller, and the deal was struck.  But for that washing machine calamity, I wouldn’t have been online and that little wheel would’ve been someone else’s bargain.

Back to the manual, found the panel I have to remove and took out the filter.  Not exactly clean as a whistle, but amazingly clean considering we’ve had the machine 5 years and never so much as looked at the filter before.  And not greasy really, so I’m not thinking lanolin is the culprit now.

Well, I’m pleased I haven’t clogged the machine with sheep fleece grease, but am now completely bemused as to why the kitchen floor got flooded.  I mentally (since it’s a very big job to do it physically) trace the drain pipe from where it leaves the machine and goes into the hard pipe behind the dishwasher, through the outside wall to the drain – LIGHT BULB!  Through the outside wall to where the fleece sheep shelter and hang out at night, and rub and scratch against the back of the house, making clunks and clackety clacks at odd times through the day and night…

Out the back door and yes, my second theory is right.  The drain pipe from the machine is pointing up to the sky!

I tell you, those 8 ewes and 4 lambs are more trouble than the whole commercial flock put together… 

The Single Farm Payment

I was asked once to explain the Single Farm Payment. I think I was feeling particularly Grumpy Old Woman that day, that or Sir Humphrey was my muse for the day…

All governments pay money into the EU and all want something back out. One of the ways money comes back out is farming subsidies.

A pot of money is allocated to each country for them to distribute into their agricultural sector. The bureaucrats get to decide how it is distributed.

I should add that the rest of this relates to England and Wales. Scottish bureaucrats behave differently.

The bureaucrats of course want to keep as much of the money as possible for the bureaucrats, releasing as little as possible to the farmers themselves.

Bureaucrats are paid to think up ridiculously draconian schemes whereby farmers who can play agricultural Twister may end up with a bit of money. Other bureaucrats are paid to think up ways of varying the schemes on a continual basis. Further bureaucrats are paid to work out how to transition farmers and bureaucrats from one scheme to another. Bureaucrats are paid to work out policing / auditing systems for the schemes and others to implement the audits. Bureaucrats are paid to work out how much money to distribute to each farmer and other bureaucrats to make those payments.

Even after all this work, there is still a little bit of money left over and this has to be allocated to farmers or be returned to Europe, and this is the Single Farm Payment.

One woman and her dogs!

One woman and her dogs!

Still all novice at this – me, Skip & Ted with a batch of Swaledale ewes on the moorland farm. (2007)

First blog post

So, today I decided to finally start a blog and see where it takes me.

Why today?  Well, a calf was born here this morning; the forecast snow passed us by; the very pregnant ewe we treated last night seems to be doing well – why not?

At  this moment in time, things about which I feel I want to blog include:

  • farming in Britain today
  • handspinning and all things fibrous – especially sheep and their fleece
  • our farm – which is a Cumbrian hill farm on which we produce beef cattle and commercial (meat) lambs
  • my own livestock, which includes Jersey house cows, a few pigs for entertainment and meat for the freezer, a few rare breed/fleece sheep
  • my working collies
  • and random thoughts, which I suspect could be headed, “Grumpy Old Woman”

Blogging is all new to me, so please bear with me while I find out about how it’s best to present my thoughts and news.