A shepherd’s diary: January

I will try to keep to the subject of ‘sheep’. I’ve looked after them for half a century plus, and I am still learning. Never a dull moment. My association with sheep started way before consideration was given to child labour, risk assessments, infection control, bio security etc. Being the youngest in a family of five and possessing small hands was, in my father’s opinion, qualification enough to ‘have a go’ when it came to difficult lambings and after that I was hooked.

Other childhood tasks included ‘filling in the gaps’ whilst accompanying a flock of Clun ewes on the A271 moving between Boreham bridge and Ninfield. This would be unthinkable today and even in those days there were incidents with vehicles, screeching of tyres, dodging sheep and irate motorists.

Sheep dipping was a family activity, it was my job to dunk them using the wooden pole with T-bar. Clad in T shirt and shorts I pranced alongside the sheep swimming in the dip, fully submerging them before they reached the end. Of course, I got as drenched as the sheep. How times change. Now OP’s (organophosphate) are subject to much tighter regulations. I guess I am lucky to be unaffected by those chemicals.

Whilst the wetland birds might be enjoying this weather this Lookerer definitely isn’t! There can be few things more depressing than checking sheep in the rain. Our breeding flock is made up of Mules, Suffolk x Mules and a few Charolais Cross, they are currently grazing on Sussex Wildlife Trust land situated on Pevensey Marshes. When the icy water flowed into my new Neoprene wellies this week, I decided waders might have been a better buy. However despite these conditions the ewes look well. The cattle had left plenty of grass, but the sheep are muddying it in, so we are having to keep them on the move. Sheep are never adverse to a change of grass, but they don’t always take the smartest route, occasionally leaping into the dykes with great gusto. It’s OK if they’re good swimmers, but challenging if not. Extracting sheep from dykes requires much effort, heave ho’ing and muttering, usually resulting in exhausted soggy heaps.

We had to abandon our Scanning this year. It was just one of those days when everything goes disastrously wrong. It started well enough, up with the lark, rushing around doing general stock work before departing complete with mobile handling system, towed by the Kawasaki mule. Admittedly the mules tyres need upgrading and we knew that the forecast predicted Storm force winds, but we didn’t want to miss our slot. Three hours later after getting stuck on the marsh, embedded in mud, drenched to the skin, battered by winds and resembling a block of ice with no Scanning achieved made me question why I keep sheep. With of No dots to tell us what we are expecting, No percentages to mull over, We’re back to the days of pot luck, guessing games and bets. Lambing will be fun won’t it?