‘The sheep in this watershed are never without water. 1976 was the exception…’

Derrick, who farms sheep in Abertillery, Wales, tells of the problems caused by ‘dead dry weather’ in Gwent. With over 60 years of farming experience, Derrick talks about the behavioural changes he has seen in his animals in response to the 1976 drought, the changes wrought on the landscape, and the demands that drought places on animal husbandry.

Most summers we are never without water. 1976 was the exception to the rule because that was the extent of the drought was what stopped everything. Normally if we get a month’s dry weather, it doesn’t affect us,
‘cos it is a good watershed here.

What I found was a lot of the springs and water courses dried up quite late in the drought and never returned

We’d taken the hay off in July and it was quite a light crop because of the dry weather. Once we’d taken that cover off the fields they just scorched.

The mountain – that was our saviour, really, because the sheep and cattle were on the mountain until the autumn. The grasses had browned right off, the wimberry bushes – they completed died and just fell off…

The heather seemed to stick it pretty good, whether they were deeper rooted or something, I don’t know.

What happened with the sheep and the cattle was, they were going to the damper areas on the mountain – the bogs and the swamps – and they were grazing those. The problem then was snails in the bogs that contain liver fluke so of course the sheep and the cattle were eating them and going down with liver fluke.

I don’t remember that we ever shut off at all but it was…running by the skin of our teeth…

The sheep dipping – that’s September – which is normally okay, but in 1976, it wasn’t. I think we fetched it from the main stream, just down by the res, if I remember rightly, in tanks there… Normally, what we used to do, you used to catch water in the stream up there and divert it into the dip, but there was nothing there to catch.

Normally our sheep they stay in a certain area, almost like, as if they’ve got a fence around them, because that’s where they were born and that’s where they stay. But in the 1976 they were going everywhere and anywhere just to find something to eat and drink, of course.

If you have a dry summer you don’t suffer so much with fly-strike on the sheep. Fly-strike mostly come when you get thundery, damp, and then warm. That’s when you mostly get the fly-strike and you get the maggots on the sheep. Dead, dead dry…it didn’t bother them. So that wasn’t so bad.The trouble was then they were going to these wet areas to graze and they picked up the fluke.

Those sheep, they’ll stick it, they’ll find it somewhere.


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