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The Good Life: A wether eye on the teasers
Listening to Fry’s English Delight on Radio 4 – a fascinating and highly recomended programme which delves into the intricacies of the English language – made me realise that shepherding has a vocabulary of its own.
When I began keeping sheep the lingo took getting used to – and I still struggle with some of the regional alternatives that pop up. However, if you ever get into a conversation with a farmer here is a brief primer to help you along.
Dags – the lumps of dried dung which adhere to the back end of sheep.
Dagging – getting rid of aforementioned lumps. A lovely job. These dags are great for making your own liquid manure by the way. Just soak them in a bucket of water for a while. Also great for using as a mulch around the trunks of fruit trees.
Gimmer – a ewe (female sheep) in her second year, but before she has had her first lamb. Also known as ‘ theaves’ (pronounced ‘thaves’) in some parts of the country. Theaves are also a band from New South Wales, Australia, who should know all about sheep.
Hefting – now this is interesting as it means the instinct of hill breeds of sheep to stick to one area (or heft) without the need for fences. Try and tell Shetland sheep about that.
Hogget –a young sheep of either sex from the January after its birth until it cuts its first teeth at about 18 months old. Also known as tegs or shearlings.
Mule – a type of crossbred ewe, usually a cross between a hill breed ewe and a Border or Bluefaced Leicester ram. They may be called a Scotch Mule (from a Blackface ewe) or Welsh Mule, if from a Welsh Mountain ewe or other geographical term. Usually put to a terminal sire to produce fat lambs.
Raddle – a lovely word this. It is the coloured pigment used to apply to a ram’s chest at tupping time. It helps show which ewes have been mated – the shepherd can then keep a pretty accurate calendar to predict when lambs will arrive. The colour of the raddle is changed after a few weeks to catch any ewes which may not be in lamb after the first mating. This is why you see sheep with multi-coloured backsides in fields across the county in the autumn – it isn’t an installation for Artweeks.
Rig – a male sheep with only one testicle descended. More properly called a Monochid.
Rooing – I only recently discovered this word. And it has nothing to do with large marsupials. It means plucking the fleece by hand.
Tup – a ram or uncastrated male. Hence the term tupping, a word that often turns up in off-colour folk songs. It is also apparently a term for head-butting up north. So be careful where you use it.
Teaser – a vasectomised ram which still has all the hormones but fires blanks. Sometimes ’teasers’ are used prior to the 'real' ram being introduced, as it helps to bring the ewes into season.
Wether – a real Old English word this, describing a castrated ram. Not to be confused with a ‘teaser’. You sometimes see wethers kept as a partner for a lone ram so he doesn’t get lonely during the 11 months of the year when he isn’t doing anything - apart from eating and being pampered.
Wool-blindness – obvious really, but refers to the excessive wool growth which stops some breeds of sheep (like my Ryelands) being able to see properly. I often have to give ours a trim around the face so they can see where they are going.
Anyone with more sheep related terms please get in touch!
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