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Weather or not...

10.02.11 | the sheep must be fed


It's now a mild February day and December's snows seem like a dream. Although 7 degrees above freezing seems nothing to write home about, it's a full 20 degrees warmer than Christmas. Just the time to look back and heave a sigh of relief.

The weather has been particularly difficult for the last year. The hard winter of 2009-10 left me with about 6 bales of hay in hand - and feeling that we'd survived it by the skin of our teeth. But summer didn't bring particularly good grass growing weather - first hot, then dry and then cold and wet. This meant that the hay grew late in the season, too late to dry properly so we were forced to make haylage rather than hay.

Haylage is wrapped to be airtight so that it ferments slightly - and has an interesting smell when it's opened. It's not as eco-friendly as hay as the wrapping is plastic, but, as the sheep have to be fed, it was necessary as a last resort this year.


Good job too. Fast forward to November and we were already cracking open the haylage to feed hungry sheep standing disconsolately on frosty and snow dusted ground.
Then there was more - over a month of snow and diving temperatures. So cold that the snow stayed crumbly for days - but even so the lane to the sheep was not driveable.
I've tried to reduce the amount of driving I've been doing but December was a month of enforced mountain bike travel to get from Todmorden to the fields I rent on the hills above the town.
Luckily I have been lent a state-of-the-art bike that weighs next to nothing whilst having full suspension ('boingy forks', apparently, is not the correct term).

The Ibis gets chatted up by proper mountain bike enthusiasts if I take it out in town. I feel distinctly underqualified to discuss its merits apart from the general joy of being able to get up a steep, slippery slope in one piece. Oh, and down it again with a smile on my face.

Obviously, breaking bits off me wouldn't do the sheep any good so I don't do anything 'technical' - the main achievement is getting the sheep fed quickly and safely in decidedly adverse conditions.

The bike doesn't run to panniers - so I borrowed a sledge for the 25kg tubs of sheep lick which help boost the pregnant ewes' mineral intake.




The succession of hard winters have taken their toll. I lost two of my oldest (and favourite sheep) and I am worried about the pregnant ewes being able to keep their condition until lambing.

Luckily the weather has let up a bit - with balmy temperatures up to a full 8 degrees. It's a bit easier to feed the sheep (although the bales of haylage did slide very satisfactorily in the snow).