Farming, in particular hill farming, is an important source of livelyhood for many in the parish of Ravenstonedale.
Farming impacts on virtually everyone living in the parish as most of us can count some farmers as friends.
Hill farming went into recession at the start of the 21st century due to a combination of factors. Sheep prices were at an all time low while the cost of lamb to the consumer was high. Supermarkets used their collective bargaining power to force down prices at source while the collapse of the former USSR economies has abolished the market for fleeces.
Milk prices were also at a record low.
Farming in the UK in general had a hard time in 1999 and 2000. Scares such as the BSE crises and the subsequent ban on beef exports to Europe coupled with a massive rise in bureaucracy and a refusal by the New Labour government to give generous subsidies together made farming a difficult way for many to earn a living.
Following the short introduction on this page the real picture of farming in Ravenstonedale and the surrounding area at the turn of the 21st century is left to the farmers themselves. In informal interviews they talk about their work and the issues affecting farming...
Contributors: George, Stan
In our hill farming community the sheep are brought off the fells several times in a year. This is referred to as gathering. Gatherings are carried out for different reasons such as dipping, breeding, shearing, shelter etc.
All the local hill farmers help out and once the sheep are brought down from the fells they can be sorted into who owns them This is a record of the gathering carried out on August 26th 2002 on the fells surrounding Cautley Spout.
Note the strange sheep in the picture!!
Click on picture to enlarge
On this warm and sunny bank holiday Monday approximately 20 farmers and helpers participated.
The farmers and their dogs met up at 9am. This was not a late start as some had been up since dawn on another gathering. The farmers who participated all graze their sheep on the fells surrounding Cautley spout. Although the sheep are hefted some do stray from their home fell and therefore to some extent they are 'mixed up'. The idea was to round up the sheep in the morning, enjoy lunch and then sort them out.
We set out at a brisk pace, too brisk for me (Stan, unfit, carrying camera). After an hour or so George (fit, agile even) was working his dogs on the crags above Cautley Spout and I was thankful I had a zoom lens to record his activities from below.
This was my first gathering and I have to say it was a work of art. As we made our way up the left side of the spout more farmers appeared on the fells to our left. Walking in line at different altitudes they worked their dogs magnificently and the sheep walked dutifully in front. As we arrived at the crags more farmers appeared on the tops of the fell like indians in a western. The co-ordination was a joy to behold. It didn't end there. As we picked up more and more sheep and herded them towards the spout another contingency of farmers appeared on the right hand side of the spout, working their dogs to keep hundreds of sheep on course. I truly had not expected this as 'the plan' had not been explained to me.
The poetry of this event continued to surprise me. What I hadn't anticipated was how the sheep would behave. I suppose I thought that men and dogs would herd the sheep in flocks across the fells like the steers in the proverbial western. This just didn't happen. The sheep simply walked unhurriedly in single file along the trods. The sight of columns of sheep ambling along the parallel trods at different levels on the fell was a joy to see and I have tried to show this in the pictures on this page. Maybe I shouldn't have been surprised - but I was.
Every year local farmers, assisted by helpers, make strenuous efforts to get the bales of hay safely stacked in the barns before the inevitable break in the weather comes. Work often carries on late into the evening to achieve this objective. Haymaking is usually preceded by silaging.