Country diary: the ups and downs of buying a retired shepherd’s flock
Ingleton, Yorkshire Dales: What will happen when it’s me who can’t walk the length of the farm to gather the sheep?
I haven’t been to Ingleton since the 1980s, but the rocky landscape still inspires as much awe and wonder in me now as it did when I was a girl. We would come here on school trips to crawl into a cave or abseil down a pothole, but this time I’m here to discuss buying sheep from a retiring shepherd.
It is a difficult thing to retire and sell a flock of sheep, and it’s a difficult thing to buy one. I felt guilty for buying all of them, not some. And it brings to mind your own limited time as guardian of your farm. What will happen when I can no longer walk the length of the farm to gather sheep? Will I retire, or simply carry on doing what I can? Is the only realistic exit strategy death?
My mind is brought back down to earth as we arrive at the gate. I thrust my cash into my pocket and jump out of the car ready to look at the sheep. This will not be an easy conversation. How do you buy someone’s life’s work, their legacy?
Thankfully, the mood is upbeat. The sheep have been recently shorn and look in good fettle. They are the small size that I wanted, and they have good udders and good mouths. Mouths are very important as they need to be able to eat to survive in the uplands. They have a good “body condition score” and I can see why. So I can see they will add value to my flock.
I am happy with one half of my flock, the other needs improvement. It will take about eight years to improve their genetics, but I have a plan, and these ewes are central to it.
Even though it is after teatime, it is still hot. The sun shines down on us and the sheep. Two cockerels are strutting about trying to gain our attention. After a short discussion, the sheep are loaded into our trailer, and the retiring shepherd peeps in through one of the vents and says farewell to the flock.