Thursday 4 October 2012

Free Range Sheep

This blog is homing in on the landmark 30,000 visits since we started, with 29,054 as I go to post. Actually, we are now starting to find the "written by Deefer" thing a bit of a pain, so as we hit 30,000 we may just come clean and let Dad write it from Dad's viewpoint. We'll see. Please comment if you'd hate for this to happen.

Meanwhile as both Mum and Dad finish their holidays and the farm moves into Autumn mode (gathering winter fuel etc), the sheep are starting to get through the nice grass in their paddock and need extra ration if they are going to put on all that weight that's being asked of them. This was always going to happen and has been planned for. Grass we can do to beat the band and the front lawn has deliberately been left un-mowed. We had, in theory, only to train the sheep to love us and to come to the rattle of a feed bucket, and we could lead them out to the front lawn, watch over them for the hour or so it took for them to fill their bellies and raise their heads from the grazing, and lead them back again.

 And so it was. The sheep were quickly trained to the bucket and soon came stampeding across the paddock to get their sheep-nuts (some kind of extruded concentrated sheep food which is also, bizarrely, also delicious to kittens, dog and puppies. We will have to have a careful read of the label to see what's in it but anyway, we need a metal dustbin with lid to store it in!

It was Sunday 30th Sept when we first bit the bullet and tried this out. On the Saturday we'd had a visit from Steak Lady, Mr SL and Auntie Mary (The Nun) and we thought that might be one bit of confusion too many at once.

The sheep were brilliant. Dogs were confined to the house. Kittens were allowed out, being unlikely to chase or harrass sheep, and the chickens were out anyway. Dad opened the gate and Liz did the rattly bucket leading thing and the sheep trotted obediently round to the lawn, then put their heads down and ate, ate, ate, enjoying the long, lush, fresh, weekly-mowed since April, grass. After about 45 minutes they got full and started wandering but this seemed to be just to try out some bramble leaves or the herbs around the drive, a bit of ivy off a tree stump, or a curious look out through the gate. The rattling bucket was deployed and they chased Mum and Dad back to the field where they were shut in and everybody relaxed. There was one small hiatus when one found she could actually get back out UNDER the gate but she was quickly rounded up and the corrugated sheet replaced.

 And that is the way it's been every day since. The weather has conveniently played ball, giving us a dry sunny hour each morning to let them mow the lawn some more.

Dad has built them a rudimentary shelter out of the Roscommon squalls. In theory they are ruffty-tuffty animals who can survive the heavy rain and have good waterproof coats which they can shake the rain off, but we saw them standing in a downpour and they looked so miserable, Dad decided that a quick shelter made from our left over joists, corrugated from the collapsed hay barn and a one tonne builder bag wouldn't hurt

Mum and Dad are very much enjoying this sheep-minding and for Dad it has the delicious flavour of Kent/Sussex history. In those counties, especially in Romney Marsh, sheep were looked after by paid workers called 'lookers'  and these poor souls were given a pittance and a single room cottage called a 'lookers huts' as their base. Their job was called 'Lookering'. They didn't own the sheep, just watched over them on the bleak, featureless marshes. More recently, in the days of CB radio, Dad can recall being associated with one Sussex Farmer who had several hundred acres and many sheep down on the marsh. Each morning the 'lookers' (now properly paid farm workers living in proper houses) would go check their animals and 'report back' on the CB to all the other lookers simply by keying the microphone and saying "Baaaa!". To anyone listening in it just sounded like a load of blokes mucking about, but if you knew the voices you'd hear a variety of 'baaaa's and then one would say "Hmmmm, Ol' Fred's not about this morning, then" and someone would be off to double check he was OK and his sheep were all accounted for.

Mum knows how to 'looker'. Pink wellies on and feet up.


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