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Paul is from a line of shepherds dating back to his paternal great-grandfather, and paternal grandfather. Paul is one of three boys; his siblings took on other professions outside the shepherding field. Paul, without knowing why, carried on the family shepherding occupation. He has been shepherding since his late teens. He met his wife, Carol, as a youngster. They grew up on the same street. Carol did not come from a family of shepherds. She became a shepherdess by virtue of Paul’s absence. She not only engaged in the rearing of pups, but also did lambing, tended the flocks when Paul was away, while rearing her children.

In 2004, Carol retired from the physical demands of work as a shepherdess. However, she will not be absent from the field of shepherding altogether as she plans to continue with the lambing work. There are few pictures of Carol because she was the person behind the camera in most cases.

When the “shepherds with beardies” project commenced in 2002, Paul agreed to write about what his and Carol’s life is like during one full year of work. We cannot thank them enough for all that they contributed by way of writings and pictures.

Winter 2003
Our Lives as a Shepherd and Shepherdess

As I write this (beginning of a calendar year) it is a quiet time, and the tups (rams) have been on the hill for five weeks. Daily chores now include: (1) looking (in my country, by law, a shepherd is expected to check all livestock on a daily basis except for when weather conditions are so severe it would not be possible); (2) making repairs to any fencing, machinery, buildings, etc. on the property; and (3) training the pups. In the new year, the tups (approximately 25) will be brought off the hills and into a field where they will be given some feed to get their weight built up in order to be in peak condition. In the U.K., approximately one ram to forty ewes would be the norm for tupping.

In February we begin to gather up the ewes for scanning (ultrasound). This can be a hard gather because of weather factors. Some of the steeper parts of the hills make it difficult to get around especially when the ground is frozen or covered in snow.

Regarding the weather at this time of year, It can be winter sunshine one minute and stinging snowstorms the next. An example: last year we had a mob of three hundred yows (ewes) coming down the hill in front of us (myself, Carol and the dogs). We could not see any of the sheep because of the blizzard conditions. The older dogs had the experience to tuck themselves in close behind the sheep all the while keeping their heads down. This was their way of protecting themselves. We eventually had to find shelter and wait for this blizzard to subside.

During the scanning process, the ewes carrying twins are separated from the ewes carrying singles. I must now take my ATV out on the hill loaded with hay.

In addition, the ewes carrying twins are given supplemental feedings. All of this work will continue until the lambs are born (lambing where I work always takes place in April through May). In March, as we approach lambing, I begin to be away to the hill all day whatever the weather. This is why we have several dogs. This work requires my changing dogs as I go through the day. When it becomes time for any particular dog(s) to work, they must gently move the ewes down the hills in the mornings and up the hills again at night. The reasons for this gentle movement: (1) to make sure the ewes graze all the grounds; and (2) to keep them off the rough ground at night in order to reduce the risk of getting couped on their backs (cast onto their backs due to being so heavy with lamb).

Lambing (April/May) can be hard for the dogs one year while easier another year. This depends mainly on how the yows have wintered. One lambing can have many problems whilst another will be a lot easier. At this time Carol and I will be out on our first round on the hills at five thirty in the morning. Carol starts off in one direction and me in another. We each usually have two dogs with us, and this work can be hard on the dogs. They must engage in the following: (1) separating a yow from the rest of the mob (also called “singling”); (2) catching yows (different dogs use different techniques to catch sheep); (3) dealing with birthing problems; (4) bringing a single yow off the hill to the yard/pen for one reason or another; and (5) placing the twin lambs into fenced fields.

Around mid-morning, we return to the house for a bite of breakfast. Then, off we go again, repeating the above work, until lunch. Lunch would be around mid-afternoon. Then, we return for the last round of work for the day. We like to be off the hill well before dark to give the yows a chance to settle down for the night. By the time the penned sheep are watered and fed, dogs sorted, it will be ten o'clock before we are finished. The dogs are bedded down into their kennels for the night. Although our dogs are bred, or in some instances, purchased for working, they are also part of our family. Two or three may reside inside our home. Reasons for this might be: a retired dog; a young puppy; or a personality that can’t be resisted (pleasing personality that we enjoy being around). It is also true that they have celebrated holidays with our family.

We carry on this lambing work for the best part of April/May. When it ends, you wish you were able to go on a holiday. However, this does not happen. We have only begun our work.

After lambing, it’s time for cutting (castration and docking of tails). This can be the worst gather of the year. We will be gathering the young lambs for the first time. The weather can now be warm (month of May). We have to start at 4:00 A.M. before it gets too hot. The young dogs can be a little keen (especially after spending a month of catching sheep on the hills.) Carol and I must make sure the dogs are now held back as the secret of this difficult gather is to go slowly keeping the pressure off of the stock. We want to use just enough pressure so that the yows move quietly taking their lambs with them to wherever they are being moved. It becomes stressful for both us and the dogs as we take them off the hill. We proceed through a gate into the yards (pens). Now, the tough part really starts. The lambs are now on totally strange ground and, if not with their mothers, will try to get back onto their patch on the hills (hoping that mum will be waiting there).This very difficult gather is where I think the Beardie really comes into its own because all the “eye” in the world will not stop a score (20) of three or four-week-old lambs trying to get back to the hill. The Beardies will run hard on bolting lambs. I approve of their snapping, barking and bumping them. This type of intimidation is commanded by me in order to make the lambs afraid of the dogs and to force them to stay with their mothers.

At the time of cutting (end of May to early June), not only does castration and docking of tails take place, but the first jag (injection and/or shot) against various diseases is given. At the same time, the spraying for ticks occurs, and, finally, a lug mark (notch in the ear on all wethers) is given to distinguish between the females and the males. Now, they get to return to the hills. Depending on how hot the weather is, this cutting process could go on for a fortnight (two weeks). Soon after this occurs, we will be gathering them again for a second jag and dosing. At the same time, the yows are cowed (removing of the dirty wool from their rears and tails and also called "dagging out") and prepared for clipping. Whilst this is going on, we still have to get round the hill twice a day to check the sheep. Gradually everything is working its way up to clipping (which on this hill is done the second week of July).

The gather for clipping is another difficult one. It is hard on the dogs as the yows are now heavy in wool, and the weather is hot. Also, the bracken is well grown (perhaps four-five feet high) so the running is tough. The dogs will have three days solid gathering and moving sheep to the sheds for the clippers. As each mob is completed, they have to be taken back to their respective hefts (a heft is a piece of land, where from generation to generation of sheep born there, is considered “their” home). This returning of the sheep to their hefts will present a new set of problems. The yows are now much lighter so they are able to move at a much faster speed. They want to race back up to the hefts leaving the lambs behind. So the dogs have to act as brakes on the leaders so as to let the lambs keep up.

After clipping is done (end of July) we normally have a quiet period where the dogs get a small break until the end of August when we start the spanning (weaning), dipping, dosing and sorting the sheep. This is done because the lambs must be taken off their mothers. Also, the old ewes, or ewes in poor condition, are removed from the flock. The wethers are sent off to better ground for fattening. This is another difficult gather. The bracken, as well as every other kind of weed, weed grass, and thistle, are now at the highest and the thickest. The sheep know how to hide in order to outmaneuver the dogs. By the end of September, we are finished with these particular chores.

We now get ready for a welcomed break during the month of October. In November, the yows are flushed (getting them in peak condition for the tups), and then returned to the hills to await the tups. Around the end of November, the dogs drive a flock of tups up to the hills. They leave three or four in one area, then commence to another area to leave another three or four, until they are all distributed among the waiting yows. Now, my work is to drive the ATV up the hills, and to observe whether the tups are doing their job and to gather the yows that have wandered off from the tups. Now is the time when the older and experienced dogs become invaluable to me. A young dog might upset things at a very crucial time. Without successful breedings, the lambing percentages would drop, and I might be out of a job.

Because the hoggets (female lambs separated from their mothers) are available, I now have the opportunity to begin training the younger dogs. Hopefully, from this group of youngsters will come another “good hill dog,” Not all working dogs make good hill dogs. Some dogs can do certain jobs better than others. In my work, however, a hill dog is a necessity. Furthermore, they make, or break, how hard my work becomes. The Beardie, as a breed, suits me, because they can do all my chores, and also, some of them can really shine when it comes to their work on the hills.

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