Sunday, 3 November 2013

Bo Peep Eat Your Heart Out

I had an email last week from one of the organisations I volunteer for asking if people were interested in becoming Volunteer Shepherds. This was for a newly-arrived flock of Wiltshire Horn sheep who are part of the Chalk Downland Management on one of the National Trust's local downland areas.

I need to build up a portfolio of different practical conservation tasks for the course, and since giving up my horses have also been looking for something animally to get involved with, and as these sheep are also Out On The Chalk (which is my landscape) it seemed like the Perfect Opportunity.

I am, therefore, now an official Volunteer Shepherdess.

Queue jokes from M about crooks and bonnets and blue dresses with full skirts, which I ignored (although I am slightly worried a crook will turn up as a Christmas present).

Anyhoo, this morning was my first official Sheep Looking Day.

There are 29 sheep of varying ages out on the down and my job on my looking day is essentially to check them over and make sure they are all fit and healthy. Which means counting them, checking their water supply, making sure the fences and gates are all intact/ closed, and looking for any signs of illness or distress in the sheep.

We took the kids and Teddy and spent an hour out on the down with a bucket trying to persuade Betty (our name for her) the lead sheep that it might be a good idea for her to pause for a few seconds from gobbling all the sheep food down and let some of her sisters have a look in. 

Most of the girls are Quite Nervous at the moment because they don't know me. This is not the case for Betty, who wasn't remotely concerned who stroked and petted her as long as there was a bucket of feed on the other end of her nose at the time.

Me and Betty

Wiltshire Horns are a sturdy breed of sheep whose fleeces moult, so to speak, and therefore they don't need much in the way of shearing. They are also perfectly suited to life on the steep hills of Chalk Downland and as such are the ideal management tool for keeping the flora under control.

This particular down has a fantastic variety of butterflies on it in the summer (something I have only just found out but intend to take full advantage of next year), and because of this I suspect it will also be good for moths. Talking to the Ranger in charge I think we may run the trap up there next year and see what we get, Exciting!

This morning there were three sheep missing, and as a couple of the younger ones have died in the last few days I feared the worse. It would have been extremely helpful to have had a sheep dog with us to round them up and contain the ones we had counted. I suggested this to Teddy, who looked at me as if I had gone mad. He does look a lot like a small sheep so perhaps this isn't such a great idea.

Anyway, the problem was solved by L (who had grumbled about having to go sheep-looking in the first place) discovering the missing three hiding in the undergrowth so all was well. He has now made friends with Betty, and that, coupled with his new found status as 'missing sheep locater extraordinaire', has encouraged him to come again next time.

One thing I learnt today is that counting sheep is harder than it sounds, particularly when they are all running about in various different directions. It's not at all as easy as when you're lying in bed and it had the absolute opposite effect of sending me to sleep. Still, we did eventually get to the right number and they all had the correct complement of legs and heads in all the right places too etc so job done.

Betty, sticking her tongue out, which isn't very polite

Being on The Chalk, the views around the downs are Pretty Gorgeous, so it will be a very pleasant place to be working (even in January?)....

I even managed to find some Sloes, which I have my eye on for Gin.....

We'd more or less finished Shepherding Duties when the sky suddenly darkened in the distance and Rain Threatened, so we legged it for the car...

Teddy was A Bit Squashed In with all the wellies, but this is nothing new and he took it with Good Humour on the whole (anything to be away from those enormous scary white things really)....

Doubtless there will be Further Sheep Adventures as the year goes on and I shall keep you informed of how they are all doing (especially Betty, for whom I have developed a Soft Spot).

I'm off now to put the finishing touches to my R.E. homework - 'design and make a Hindu Shrine and accompanying leaflet' - because L (whose homework it really is) can't see the point, and then to drop Cousin Dougal over to my sister who is doing 'second Dougal Duty' till Ma returns from hols.

Till next time,

CT x 


  1. I think I'd be more worried about a Bo Peep costume...! Anyway how lovely to be looking after something different, I'm sure you will embrace and enjoy it in equal measure. Just watched Counrtyfile and saw the Soay sheep being used at Tintagel. It brought back wonderful memories of sitting amongst them in their first few days at Berry Head.

    1. I caught bits of Countryfile yesterday too and thought it was Tintagel. Have you been before? It's a great place, especially Merlin's Cave down on the shore.
      Yes, Bo Peep costume for crimble is a bit of a worry! x

    2. Yes we had a holiday in Tintagel, although the little town is not great, we loved our holiday, and Trebarwith Strand was a great dog friendly beach where we spent most of the time. It was one of those get away from it all holidays.

  2. Replies
    1. Thank you. I am now worrying about losing my sheep and not knowing where to find them.... x

  3. Sounds an exciting and worthwhile volunteering project and the views look stunning :) I wouldn't be keen on the thought of a Bo Peep costume for Christmas either :(

    1. It's certainly something different. I know horses back to front but have never worked with sheep before. Luckily M has, so I have him as back up if needs be :-)
      Yes, Bo Peep costume- not good!

  4. Good luck with the volunteer shepherding, it certainly looks like a beautiful spot for it :-)

    1. The location was a big part of the appeal David. I'm really missing the chalk so this way I get to be on it a bit more :-)

  5. This seems a great project for you! I think Betty seems a sweet sheep! You could borrow Bracken as a sheep dog being part collie, but not sure he would be very helpful having no sheep dog training! Ted looks like a right cutie in the boot of the car with all the wellies!

    1. I've missed the sheep this week and am looking forward to checking them over the weekend. Bracken would be most welcome to come and help- he can't be any worse than Ted! :-)


Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x