Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sheep on the Fens

click photo to enlarge
I grew up in sheep country. The hillsides and "tops" of the Craven district of the Yorkshire Dales used to be crawling with them, whilst on the improved grass of the lower slopes and the river valleys it was the beef and milk cattle that took precedence. That area of the Dales still rears a lot of sheep, but the omnipresent Swaledale seems to have given way to a wider range of breeds since the foot and mouth outbreak of 2001. The diet of Dales sheep is grass in its many varieties. When that is unavailable mangolds are sometimes given. During this year's very dry spring I saw farmers delivering concentrate by quad bike to the sheep and lambs on the limestone uplands.

One of the surprises I got following my re-location from the north west of England to Lincolnshire was the sight of sheep on the Fens. I'd visited this area before, but only during spring and summer, and hadn't seen sheep in the fields, or very much pasture on which they could live: a few "hobby" sheep kept in paddocks near farms was about all. So I wasn't ready for the arrival of significant numbers once autumn got under way. What happens on the Fens as far as sheep go is very beneficial for their owners and for the vegetable growers on whose fields they are deposited. Around October flocks are brought in and put onto fields where a crop hasn't sold and has gone to seed, or where the crop has been lifted and there is still plenty of green leaf remaining - as with cauliflowers, for example. If the field already has a sheep-proof boundary the animals are simply turned onto the crop and they eat their way across it following an electric fence that is moved once they have stripped an area. On fields without hedges or other boundaries an electric fence is all that is used to contain them. Often the owner leaves a few hay bales to supplement the green diet, and I have seen "licks" in some fields. A payment in cash or kind can accompany this activity, and the fields must benefit from the manure that is deposited. The owners of the sheep have the the benefit of fresh greens for their animals at a time of year when the vigour of the grass on their upland pastures is in decline. Sheep can be seen on the Fens through the winter, and gradually start to disappear come spring.

The animals in today's photograph had only recently been introduced to this field of unwanted vegetables, and the height of the crop was hiding many of them. I stopped the car on the adjacent lane as I drove past when I noticed the low sun outlining the bodies of a group of nearby animals. Perhaps I should consider this image another one resulting from my self-imposed task of taking more contre jour shots.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 200mm (400mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/1250
ISO: 400
Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On