A birthday means shepherds, steak pie and sheep talk

This week it is my birthday – not a particular milestone – just an average birthday.

So, true to form, Jake has organised a special night out at the local pub – it is Redesdale Shepherds’ Supper.

This is an annual all-male gathering of shepherds and farmers offering broth, steak pie, apple crumble, speeches, poetry and folk music, all for £18. Very traditional. Sports jackets will be worn. I am told that top topics of conversation at these events include the weather, how much grass there is and whether the expensive tups were worth the money.

No doubt there is a certain amount of gossip, as well, but I’m not in a position to confirm this, never having attended one. Jake always enjoys these events. He especially relishes the opportunity to chew the fat/talk shop in a relaxed social setting. I think that this is also important for most of those attending, given the often solitary nature of sheep farming.

As for me, would I honestly want to spend my birthday listening to people talking about sheep? Er, no.

Of course, I will have a role to play in the evening. That will be providing the lift home at the end. There aren’t too many taxi firms round here and they tend to be very expensive and being mere hill farmers, we can’t afford to use them. There ought to be a ‘Dick Turpin’ award for highway robbery when it comes to rural taxis.

We have just about finished lambing and it has gone surprisingly well. We have provided very little business for Warrens (the local fallen stock collectors). This is probably as good a measure of a successful lambing as anything I can think of. It is strange to think how these fallen stock collectors are such a normal part of hill-farming now. They certainly weren’t, just a few years ago when we started out.

Having observed the Warrens collection wagon on a number of occasions, I have to say well done to the drivers for carrying out such an unpleasant job. On a hot day the smell must be unbearable and it does tend to cling. Jake followed their vehicle into Rothbury one day and saw the crowds part as the driver popped into the bakery for a lunchtime pie.

The good lambing was mainly down to a wonderful period of fine weather. But we have also had some rain recently which has encouraged the grass. It looks like more rain is forecast in the next couple of weeks, which will help the silage and hay crops.

One of my favourite tasks of the year is letting the cows out of the shed, as it seems to mark the beginning of summer. We did this a couple of weeks ago, swiftly withdrawing behind the gate in the yard to avoid the pandemonium. As usual, the cows all got very excited and started running and bucking. Then they raced off leaving most of the calves behind, looking a bit bemused. After a few laps of the hill, they eventually all met up again and everything settled down.

The army started firing again on Monday after the lambing break – so there is now a little encampment over the brow of the hill. It is funny how they never seem to use the gun spurs which were specially constructed on our farm a few years ago. We’re not complaining – the nearest gun spur is quite a handy place for unloading straw, but somehow the planners do not seem to have provided what the users required.

It took me a little time to adjust to the noise of gunfire again after this year’s ceasefire. So far, I have managed to confuse the sound of a machine gun, a woodpecker and Archie knocking in his new cricket bat – they are all very similar.

This morning there was a distant crackling of weapons, which sounded a bit like a bowl of Rice Krispies. This afternoon, the sounds are more like blasts from the big guns.

On the pet front, Bramble, our border terrier, appears to have taken up mole-hunting on our lawn, in the last few weeks. Normally she prefers to chase rabbits and deer. However, the rabbit population seems to have taken a hammering over the winter and we have never seen so few here in 16 years. In contrast, the moles are flourishing.

Bramble tries to stalk the mole using several techniques:

• advancing quietly with exaggerated footsteps

• crawling slowly on her tummy

• lying low and staring intently at a molehill for hours; and finally

• digging wildly.

This is all funny to watch, because the mole never appears on the surface. So it just looks like Bramble is playing with an invisible friend or simply staring at a pile of earth. For a while I hoped that Bramble could forge a new and lucrative career as a mole catcher. However, despite all her efforts, Bramble has caught a grand total of zero moles to date. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

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