October 19, 2008

Daft Laddies – Sheep crack

Daft Laddies. Farming Tales of North Tyne and Rede 50 years on.

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 & Donald Clegg. If you would like a copy, contact donaldclegg@btopenworld.com

Sheep have always been the mainstay of Northumbrian farming, and those of us who trained in the art/science of their husbandry, acquired a considerable vocabulary. It wasn’t till we met “foreigners” from north of the border or sooth of the Tyne, and in my case (CD) – New Zealanders at Cockle Park, that we realised there were problems with our mother tongue. Folk from north of the border faired better than southerners, but if they were from “way doon sooth”, there was nee show o’ gittin’ ony sense oot ‘o them.

We had special fun when a new vet arrived up the valley with a “foreign” accent, and to see their confusion when we started a sheep crack, as clearly vet colleges didn’t provide regional dictionaries for their students. But they soon got thor lugs adjusteed to wor sheep terminology. Here’s the technical challenge these foreigners faced. See how you get on.

Yowes are the cause of all trouble in their various states of age and health. If you are ever asked, “how’s yor yowes”, for goodness sake never say they’re good. God in his mercy will strike ye doon for such extravagance. The best you should ever claim is that they’re “canny”.

Don’t use “gey-canny” as that’s a bit ower the top an’aal. It would be better to say “nowt grate”, “middlin” or “fair-te-middlin”. “Gey lean” or “serious lean” would also be acceptable, but avoid describing them as “lean as craas” – just in case they are and it sounds as if you could be to blame. The problem must always appear to be that of the sheep and not the shepherd!

The hoggs are the female flock replacements from 6 - 14 months old and should be the heord’s pride and joy. When asked what fettle they’re in, again use “gey lean” to start with, or “sair skittad” or “sair rushed”, or maybe “gey fluky” or “pooky unda the jaa” to describe a touch of liver fluke. “Nowt grate” is always a winner or again “fair te middlin”, and as a clincher use “aafu dry i’ the skin”. You can use these afflictions singly or in multiple combinations depending on the audience.

Hoggs on the hill don’t go to the tup to be mated, and in the days before there were plenty inbye fenced fields, the hoggs were “breeked” by sewing a piece of cloth or sacking over the tailhead to prevent the ram gaining entry. (But, nature being what it is, some aye fund a way!) At Willowbog farm, the practice was to use a piece of tweed made from the farm’s own wool. At the end of the tuppin’ season the breekin’ was removed, washed and put aside for use again next year! So dosin’ and the breekin’ of the hoggs were very important seasonal jobs.

The hoggs then grow into gimmers or shearlings, and after once-shorn and they go to the tup. Then next season they become “young yowes” or “two shear”, and after a few more seasons on the hill they become “owld yowes”.

But watch oot here because an “oweld yowe” is one found lying on her back. She was also “fund cast, cassen or cassent” – and if not found she’ll soon be a “deed yowe”. As the late Henry Brewis portrayed so well, this is the ultimate urge of all yowes with their innate kamakazi mission in life.

In their last season on the hill and usually at five years old, yowes are described as “drowt” or “draught” yowes. They are sought by lowland farmers to breed another lamb crop, provided they have “soond mooths” and “soond bags and tits”. For sale they are warranted or guaranteed in mouth and udder.

“Grit yowes” are pregnant while “eild” or “geld” yowes are not. In lambing time, hopefully, you’ll have very few “kebbed” yowes that have aborted. So in any decent lambing field – at least before sheep were housed, there was always the important “keb hoose” or isolation pen to be constructed. It was usually lined with bottles of straw that were burnt after lambing to prevent harbouring disease.

But then a kebbed yowe had hor uses anaall as she could be used to foster lambs on from another yowe (often a gimmer) that had produced twins and couldn’t rear them. Or maybe she would be used to rear the lambs from a deed yowe.

“Settin a lamb on” to another yowe was always a challenge, as some old bitches, even under threat of death by exsanguination, would not take a strange lamb. They could be ‘barred” up with the lamb for a week and still not let it suck. Some smart lambs learned to suck from behind her if they were determined to survive.

The Tup

The tup or male sheep justifies special comment. Tups grow from a tup lamb into a tup hogg, then into a shearling after being shorn once. The term “dinmont” is rarely used unless you heord sheep in sight of the border, as it has been pinched from the other side. At the end of his life the tup is sold as a “cast tup”. Note that he is not cast as in lying on his back - he is “cast for age” and soon to be cast into meat pies.

It’s when you get heavily into judging tups or “dressing” them for show or sale, that you need an extra, special vocab. This art is of “faking tups” to fool the judge or buyers. Ivvribody knaas it gans on and is an accepted art to be learned by budding heords, as buyers pay more for a well-dressed tup. Many heords reckoned this skill was born to you.

Inherent or not, here are some faults you can declare (as your firm opinion) when you next lean over some rails and eye up a Blackfaced tup at the local show or sale. But remember to wear your cap set not ower much on an angle, and have a serious pained expression. For your maker’s sake divvnt’ crack a smile. It’s also good to carry a horn-headed dressed stick to poke the poor unfortunate beast to add injury to insult:

• Wrang in the heed faults in the head, shape or head set, or colour of hair on the face.
• Wrang in the horns faults not corrected by heating and bending them before the beast was put on display.
• Wrang ahint faults with his rear legs and feet.
• Wrang belaa problem with reproductive organs.
• Wrang in the skin faults in the wool.
• Wrang abun the nose fault with the shape or nose profile and face.
• Wrang in the shooder fault in the shoulder region.
• Slack in the back hollow or weak back.
• Short coupled front and back legs too close, short in length.
• Gye necked twisted neck so its head looks off line.
• Shot moothed Top and bottom jaws don’t meet
• Shuttle gobbed regional variation on above
• Muffy roond the lugs short wool around the ears.
• Nee gud as a gittor infertile and the ultimate insult.

Phew! You’d need to hurry to the beer tent to slake your thorst after that lot. Mebbes bettor if ye just mek away haeme afore they find oot whee ye are and whaat rrubeesh yi’ve been reedin’. Or warse; ye cud mebbes git inviteed to judge next year because of your knowledge!

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