I was 8 years old. It was mid-summer and I was doing what I loved best, working with Grandad amongst his sheep. We went to gather his furthest field, next to a main road. Accompanying us was Grandad’s pride and joy, his sheep dog Laddie.
On command away went Laddie tearing down the field on a wide outrun. The sheep were ewes with strong lambs at foot, ready for weaning. As Laddie gathered them, a lamb broke away running full tilt into the hedge at the bottom of the field. In an instant Laddie was through the hedge and on to the road to turn the lamb back. A car was approaching at speed and the inevitable happened.
I didn’t see Laddie get hit by the car but remember vividly the screech of brakes and the bump. I also remember Grandad’s words, “oh no, me dog’s dead”. Then he was shouting at me to stop where I was, but I was over the field gate in a flash, running down the road to where Laddie lay. Grandad came scuttling along as fast as his old bowed legs would carry him.
“He’s alright Grandad, look his tails still wagging”! It was nothing but the last vestiges of nervous energy leaving his body. Grandad had to explain that he really was dead. Then he told me to run back home and tell grandmother what had happened. Away I went half running, half walking as I choked back tears. Later that day we drove down the road where poor Laddie had been killed. All I could see was a pile of sand.
Sometimes it is hard to get the general public to understand the relationships that farmers have with their animals. The perception is often that farm businesses are like factory units. Joe Public doesn’t get that despite the fact that farm animals are working animals, very often there are relationships and bonds. I came across some stark examples of this in the dark days of 2001 when foot and mouth disease tore farmers from their flocks and herds. From the pulsating throb of a vibrant dairy parlour to empty silence in a few hours. A field full of sheep one minute, to an empty field of nothing but grass. For many farmers this was so hard, as bad or even worse than a family bereavement.
Many times in my career as an auctioneer I have unloaded trailers as farmers bring cast cows to market. If I’d had a £1 for every time a farmer has said “this is a sad day”, I could probably do a better job of keeping the Mrs in the manner to which she is accustomed!
Programmes like “This Farming Life” do sometimes show the bond between the farmer and his stock as well as the skill and total commitment of so many in our farming community. Frankly we could do far more of this to educate the public. The government may not recognise food production as a public benefit, but through the media and meeting the public face to face, this is a message we absolutely must get across in future.
Grandad bought a new sheep dog, but it was never the same. Laddie was irreplaceable. Long in to his dotage, grandad would sit in his chair by the fire. There would be a little gulping cough and a sigh, followed by, “Best dog I ever had”……