February 21, 2021

As I mentioned before, we were entrusted with our neighbours’ smallholding last summer, for which we were handsomely rewarded in the form of (vegans look away now) one lamb – not as a pet but as a neatly packaged set of joints suitable for going into the freezer. In fact, payment came in two parts – half a lamb last year and another half which duly arrived a couple of days ago.

lambs getting fed
Not the actual lamb in question, although it did arrive at our house in a bucket

The only downside of the first half was having to look the other sheep in the eye when we passed them on our occasional walks past their field, but the second half came with a bonus package: the liver (as well as a bucket of slightly whiskery surplus carrots and onions and almost a dozen eggs). Now, I have become a much less picky eater than I used to be over the years – having added many vegetables, and even the odd invertebrate to the list of things I eat, but so far I have drawn the line at offal except in the form of pate. The other half, who knows me well, realised that if the liver went into the freezer along with everything else it would likely stay there until the end of time or we defrosted it, whichever was sooner. So it has been in our fridge waiting for me to get the courage to give it a go.

Yesterday the day arrived. A quick google revealed that there is precisely one liver recipe in the entire English-speaking world, which is to flash fry it with bacon and onions (the other recipe, favoured by our school kitchen back in the day, of boiling it until it resembled shoe leather but with a faintly greenish sheen, seems to have fallen by the wayside). Twitter more or less confirmed this but divided decisively between the ‘slice-first-then-fry’ and ‘fry-first-then-slice’ camps – as it turned out the liver was pre-sliced so I didn’t have to choose a side.

So anyway, to cut a long story short, I cooked it as instructed and it was … fine. It did not taste of shoe leather. It did, quite definitely, taste of liver. Covering it in onion gravy and bacon helped a bit, but I now know that I’m not massively keen on the taste of liver. However I can say that I have moved lamb’s liver from the ‘do not like despite not ever having tried it’ box to the slightly more grown up ‘do not really like and yes I have tried flash frying it with onion and bacon’ box. Hey, it’s 2021. We take our achievements where we can these days.

In slightly more grown-up news, I have been putting the surplus carrots to more delicious use: not just carrot cake but, in the ultimate in pre-preparedness, ready-chopped batches of soffritto mix for the freezer.

All I have to do is find a space for it among all the lamb…

More Sheep Adventures

February 19, 2019

Setting off unforgivably late this morning, having already been delayed by a soft back tyre, a talkative neighbour and my unfailing need to act out a demonstration of ‘more haste, less speed’ whenever under pressure to do something to the bike quickly,* I worked out I could still be on time if I stepped it up a gear. As long as I didn’t encounter too many tractors attempting to squeeze past each other on a narrow section of road (just the one pair) and any wayward sheep I would be …

… which was when I saw the sheep caught up in barbed wire. For it is February, which means we’re getting into prime sheep escapology-and-attempted-suicide season (it runs from approximately the beginning of February until the 31st of January, as far as I can tell, but it peaks as spring approaches), and someone on the pipeline project had left a stretch of loose fencing, including barbed wire, just hanging about where they’d cut the fence to put a gate in. Obviously, this wasn’t in a field with actual sheep in it, but it was next to one, and that meant that at least one sheep had got out and was now tangled up in the loose wire and pinging around like a panicked woolly pinball trying to get itself free.

Late though I was, this didn’t look like it would end well for the sheep and, this being the countryside, there was nobody about who looked like they’d be any better at fence de-sheeping than me. So I stopped, approached the gate, and stood with my bike plotting how I might manage to grab hold of and subdue what was quite a large and by now quite panicky sheep, remove the barbed wire, and get it back in its field without doing any damage to myself or the sheep.

Fortunately, at that point the sheep spotted the scariest thing in the known world – my bike – ripped itself free from the wire, and then – in an act of genius unparalleled in the sheep world – got itself back into its field through the same hole in the fence from whence (from the evidence of the wool left all around it) it had escaped.

I live in fear that one day the bike won’t work its magic and I’m actually going to have to free a sheep from something, but so far it’s been 100% effective at injecting some sense of self-preservation into their little woolly heads. Long may it last.

sheep escape

Barbed wire, sans sheep

Oh, and I time-trialled it the rest of the way into Bigtown and was a scant three minutes late.

* For reasons known only to my subconscious, when returning to the house to pump up a tyre in a hurry, I always seem to decide that leaving the bike at the gate, going to get the track pump from the garage, walking back to the bike with the pump, walking back to the garage to return the pump, and then walking back to the bike to set off again will be quicker than just wheeling the bike up to the garage in the first place. No, I don’t know either.

Exciting* Sheep News

April 17, 2017

The field on one side of the house has suddenly been upgraded with the addition of some ewes and their lambs, who have perhaps grown a bit beyond the maximum cute stage.

growing lamb

But are beginning to look fairly delicious.

Fortunately this is not the field with the hole in the fence, which I imagine would not prove lamb-proof even with my improvised defences. Even so, I imagine my lamb-putting-back-in-field adventures are by no means over.

* Not really

Good Fences make Good Neighbours

January 16, 2017

Since the cows went in for the winter, we haven’t had any next door neighbours for a while, but about a week ago, some sheep appeared in the field next to the garden.

sheep running away

They’re pretty flighty, so I haven’t been able to take any decent photos of them, but today as I headed out to get the washing in, I noticed that the bleating was a little louder than usual, and looking again, realised that two of them had decided to pay us a call.

sheep in the garden

This is in fact two sheep, not some weird two-headed sheep creature as it appears here

It is a universal sheep truth that, while they can get through some amazingly small holes in fences when you don’t want them too, they cannot get through a wide open gate when you do. Our garden has four corners, and in one of them is an open gate onto the lane. Our visitors and I proceeded to spend the next fifteen minutes extensively testing this truth as the sheep ran inot every corner of the garden except the one with the open gate. They were even willing to bolt directly past me (at an impressive speed) in order not to go anywhere near the opening.

speeding sheep

Apologies for the blurry photo but it was moving at some speed and the light was poor

Tiring of the game, and a bit worried about panicking possibly pregnant sheep, I left them lurking behind the shed like a pair of naughty schoolchildren, and went and rang the farm.

sheep behind the shed

‘I’m pretty sure she can’t see us here’

Two farming chaps came pretty promptly and in the fading light gave a masterclass in garden de-sheeping (farming chap one hides behind the shed, just by the fence. Farming chap two starts chasing the sheep towards the shed. Sheep gets up to warp speed. Farming chap one catches it and effectively bounces it over the fence. Repeat with second sheep).

The problem, apparently, is that our predecessors cut a hole in the fence so their dog could get in and out, and although the farmer keeps closing up the gap, it keeps opening up again. I left them allegedly sheep-proofing the fence again with string (it was too dark by then to see anything), pleased that we discovered this gap in the defences before we had planted the veg plot and not after. I’m already working on a design for a hare-proof fence around the new plot; I might have to upgrade that to a sheep proof one now…

By the Horns

November 4, 2016

I have had occasion to wonder in the past why farmers put sheep in fields with fences that have holes which are temptingly just big enough for a sheep to get its head through, but not apparently big enough for the sheep to get its head out. There’s a field on the way to Bigtown which has recently been filled with sheep with horns, which makes them apparently extra susceptible to getting stuck as I have twice in the past week encountered a stuck sheep there and found myself wondering how to unstick the sheep.

So far, the best method that I have come across is to stop and go up to the sheep making helpful suggestions about how it might want to free itself in a conversational tone while looking around frantically for someone who looks as if they might know how to wrestle a sheep out of a fence* until the sheep – terrified by the approaching cyclist and unsoothed by my remarks – twists its head free.

This tends to be complicated further if a giant Hercules transport plane chooses that moment to roar overhead, as it did when I was on my way to the ‘allotment’ the other day, although the sheep actually took that part in its stride – obviously a person on a Brompton making conversation with them is way more terrifying than a ginormous plane which looks as if it’s about to crash through the tree tops.

Anyway, whether it was my advice or just sheer terror, the sheep detached itself and ran off without my having to get hands on with it. Long may this continue.

And no photo of the sheep (because it seemed a little insensitive) so you will have to make do with a chilli that seems to have turned itself into a ram’s horn instead.

curled up chilli

* I tried googling it, but the answers all seem to revolve around minecraft sheep, which isn’t massively helpful, and this video which reminds me that no sheep-related good deed is ever entirely uncomplicated.

The Great Escape

November 27, 2014

errant sheep?

Coming back from a walk the other day, I happened across a flock of sheep in the road, which I reckoned must be the gang in the field opposite our house. I thought for a moment they might be on the lam, but no, there was a farmer on a quad bike at the back although instead of the more traditional dog, he seemed to have a cyclist with him to help chivvy them along (or perhaps just a passing cyclist who knew better than to try and pass a flock of sheep when riding the World’s Scariest Thing). The sheep turned obediently enough up a track, and the farmer came along behind with – I couldn’t help noticing – a sheep sitting in a rather undignified fashion on his lap. A sheep I recognised (yes, I can now tell them apart – well, some of them).

I don’t quite know why Houdini was getting a lift rather than having to hoof it along the road with the rest of her colleagues – possibly because she had a slight limp, or perhaps to stop her from lighting off again over hill and dale. Or perhaps she is indeed the sheep mastermind some commenters believer her to be and he was no farmer but her accomplice in her most daring escape attempt ever.

I look forward to seeing her ride past next time on a bike.

Gated Community

November 17, 2014

Heading out for a walk this weekend, the other half and I noted that the farmer (either that or someone with a more impressive collection of stuff-that-might-come-in-handy in their shed than us) had replaced the broken half of the gate with a new gate. We also noticed that Houdini the sheep was back out of her field again and happily browsing the verge outside the landlord’s house. Having checked the level of the ford (a surprisingly robust five inches), and considered sampling the raspberries (raspberries! in November!) in the hedgerows we wandered homewards and considered what best to do about the sheep. Chasing her into the landlord’s garden didn’t seem quite on, and nor did leaving her where was on the road because we’d feel pretty rotten if we came across her mangled corpse the next morning, sheep not being particularly hi vis nor reflective, nor, indeed, particularly endowed with road sense. We briefly considered herding her into our garden and keeping her as a pet (and blog fodder – the other half is a harsh critic and feels the blog has been on an endless downwards slide, quality wise, since it started and could do with an expanded cast of characters) but in the end she made up her own mind and headed off back to the gate where after a certain amount of vaguely comic squeezing (you never have your camera with you when these sorts of things happen, do you?) she reinserted herself into the field via the unbroken half of the gate.

This morning, we found that the farmer (or impressive shed hoarder) had done this:

blocked and mended gate

I’d like to think that that was an end to the saga, but having seen this sheep in action, I’m not 100% convinced. Stay tuned for further developments.

Spoke too Soon

November 12, 2014

I was just preparing to have a quick lunch before cycling into Bigtown to be interviewed* by a student for his research into Smart Cities, when I looked out of the window and realised that my last blog post had been somewhat premature.

It turns out that blocking a hole in a gate with string, plus the addition (by someone else) of some tree branches, only makes it harder to get the sheep back into the field, not for them to get out. This time it took me, the other half (who turned up in the car half way through the proceedings) and a passing horserider to corral the sheep to the point where it would go through the gate. I think I’ll leave farming to the farmers from now on.

If the sheep does return (or a sheep – I think this was a different one this time), we may well just leave it in the garden. It can keep the grass down, add a bit of fertiliser, and when spring comes, hopefully provide us with a couple of lambs. Not exactly a substitute for the cat, but it would be considerably more delicious…

*I like to consider I agree to these things because I am a big hearted person who likes to help out students with their research. The other half thinks it’s because I like being interviewed because I get to talk as much as I like AND the other person has to listen. He may well be right, but even so it’s ALSO because I am a big hearted person who likes to help out students with their research. Plus often they buy me coffee

I Said a While Back …

November 11, 2014

… that one of the signs of having lived in the country too long was no longer worrying about your neighbours’ sheep. However, we found out on Sunday that this doesn’t extend to when you find them in your own garden, even once your garden has reached the stage where having sheep in it is likely to reap a net benefit, assuming they eat weeds and non-weeds in roughly equal quantities.

This sheep – spotted by the other half slinking behind the woodshed – was an unusually chilled one, adjusted for being a sheep. Having ushered it out of the flower bed, it trotted out of the yard and onto the road where, it being dusk, I worried it was likely going to form a bit of a traffic hazard. Fortunately it seemed to know where it was going, headed straight to the gate of the field opposite and limboed back in, which is a bit of an acheivement for a sheep because normally getting them back into a field they’ve been perfectly capable of getting out of is as difficult as getting an insect to fly through the open half of a window. Closer inspection showed that the gate was broken and the bottom bar had been torn away by a large rock, leaving a temptingly sheep-sized hole.

It is another sign that you have lived in the country too long, that you have in one of your many sheds numerous lengths of binder twine that you have found lying on the road when you’re out on your bike and picked up and kept in case they come in useful (OK, maybe that really is just me). And it turns out that one of the things that lengths of binder twine come in useful for is creating a nice hand-woven anti-sheep barrier on a broken gate which, so far at least, seems to have kept the sheep where they belong, assuming I have remembered how to tie my knots correctly (and if I have, such is the permanence of temporary solutions, that I fully expect it to still be there in spring).

Binder twine – the duct tape of the rural world?

One Man and His Car

November 21, 2013

Riding into Bigtown this morning I encountered a bit of sheepherding, modern style – one (ordinary saloon) car driving along in front with its hazards on, a flock of sheep, and one driving along behind to make sure there were no stragglers. I suppose there’s no actual reason why one should herd sheep from a quad bike with a dog – or even from a 4×4, except that it just looks a bit more authentically agricultural that way (although I did notice that both drivers were at least wearing their tweed caps). And if you’re on a normal car it’s probably a lot warmer and more comfortable than a quad bike and cheaper to run than a Land Rover.

But it did seem a little strange that these sheep were being herded from next to the field where sheepdog school regularly runs – and indeed, as I cycled back before lunch, there were all the trainee sheepdogs bouncing up and down waiting for their turn to chase the remaining sheep in circles round the field. You do wonder what the point is of all that training if you can move the sheep around just as easily with a couple of Ford Focuses fore and aft. And you’d think the dogs would relish the chance to actually try their stuff on the road doing an actual real job moving sheep from one field to another.

But then again, being trainees, perhaps they’re not up to being out there with the traffic? At what level do you allow the dogs out on the road? Sheepability 2?