By Clive Dalton and Donald Clegg
An extract from the book - Daft Laddies. Farming Tales of North Tyne and Rede 50 years on (2003) By Clive Dalton and Donald Clegg. If you would like a copy, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
What kind of tick?
No, this isn't aboot pocket watches left at Andrew Murray’s in Bellingham for repair and being told on your 20th vistit that “sorry it isn’t riddy yet. And it's not aboot debt! It's aboot a small blood-sucking beast - the sheep tick (Ixodus ricinus). Technically it's not an insect because it has eight legs (insects have six).
Visitors to the North Tyne are very familiar with the Kielder midgie which it was once claimed, were "big eneuf te yolk a pair intiv a reapor and cut a brick afore the eleven train went doon." But I bet not many of the visitors with freedom to roam knaa ower much about the tick. Mebbes it’s bettor that they knaa nowt!
Blood sucker causing Loupen Ill
No, the sheep tick is a far differrent beast to the midgie. The tick’s main job in life is to hook on to a sheep, suck its blood and when fully gorged, drop off into the bent or heather and digest its fill. When empty again, it them waits for the next passer by. The tick doesn't mind if it’s a cattle beast, a sheep, a collie dog, the heord - or the bairns! Bairns could have ticks in their heads for days and never found out till bath night!
The sheep tick has special significance as it’s the vector (carrier) of virus diseases - the most famous of these being loupin-ill. As the name suggests the afflicted sheep develops paralysis of the limbs and spends a lot of time trying to get to its feet – loupin’ aboot and spalorin’ on the grund. After this stage it seems te be aafu' keen te dee! It cannot be a pleasant death.
Risk to heords
There were occasional cases of shepherds getting what was thought to be loupin’-ill. It's medically akin to poliomyelitis (infantile paralysis), which was common in the 1940s and afflicted young ootbye folk as well as those inbye. Certainly ticks are keen to attach themselves to the heord as he loups his way through the heather. They stick on your socks and once on the bare grund of your body, away they’ll gan leukin’ for a nice sheltered, warm, moist crevice or two before starting to feed. Trailing a sack across the fell is a way researchers carried out tick counts to get some idea of population densities.
Typical tick country with plenty of thick dead grass. They don't mind
hitching a ride on collie dogs either.
Vaccines against loupin’-ill were developed but up to the 1950s, they were never totally effective. The main defence was to rely on the ewes that survived the disease passing on some natural immunity to their lambs through the first milk after birth. So gittin its forst sook was critical for a hill lamb in tick infested country. Young lambs following their mothers on the hill were easy targets for hungry ticks and could lose a lot of blood and even die of anaemia.
Divn't pull it oot!
A fully gorged tick is a gruesome looking beast, before dropping off. Ticks should never be pulled out of the skin no matter how tempting, as their mouthparts stay behind and can cause infections. A glowing cigarette end or some paraffin oil from the lamp were old recommendations to get them into reverse gear of their own accord.
A sheep flock's natural tick resistance was and still is a valuable asset and is the most important reason for sheep being hefted or tied to their grazing. You have to buy the sheep with the farm so, as a new owner or farm tenant, you took the yowes ower at valuation. This price was always above the current market value of the sheep, but it was worth every extra penny. It was the main topic of conversation for months in farming circles. “Did ye heaor what the yowes made at Corby Hill”?
Non-resistant sheep would not survive well, and it would take a long time with many deaths, until a flock’s natural immunity developed. Modern pour-on insecticides that go through the skin of the sheep and circulate in the bloodstream have been very effective against all blood-sucking parasites including ticks.
They'll be back
But the ticks will be back nee doot, along with increasing numbers of other pests as they become resistant to chemical insecticides. Modern science isn’t as clivvor as them scientific blokes think, ye knaa.