Strange tale of the sheep which 'ate rocks'

Rock-eating sheep, the predations of red kites, and the farms and estates which ended the troublesome activities of hare coursers by shooting all the hares themselves.

Farmer and author Roger Evans.
Farmer and author Roger Evans.

And all the while Gomer sits, just watching, staring.

Shropshire dairy and poultry farmer Roger Evans has launched his latest book which showcases his diaries spanning from October 2020 up to June this year.

For many years he has written a weekly farming column and is a regular contributor to various specialist dairy magazines. He writes a new book every two years and they have sold more than 27,000 copies.

His latest book, called Land of Milk and (No) Money, is full of accounts and anecdotes, reflections and observations, with one recurring theme being the fundamental ignorance of farming and the countryside of some folk who nevertheless think they know better than farmers.

Roger's latest book

The rock-eating sheep are one example. He tells of a friend who is sitting in his armchair on a Sunday afternoon before going out to feed the cattle when there is a sharp rap on the back door. He goes out to be confronted by about 10 ramblers, one of whom angrily informs him, to cries of "it's a disgrace" and "you should be ashamed" from the others, that his sheep are so hungry that they have resorted to eating rocks.

He is puzzled, until he remembers that the previous week he had taken some Himalayan rock salt up to the hill.

"They are much loved by sheep and cattle, which will lick them for hours," writes Roger, who farms near Bishop's Castle.

The ramblers are disbelieving, so the farmer takes them to his yard to show them the rest of the delivery.

"They accept his explanation but he can tell they are not best pleased. They would much rather have found a case of animal cruelty."

One of the success stories of bird recovery are red kites, once found just in part of Mid Wales but now spreading into west Shropshire and making inroads east. Roger has a grandstand view as red kites in his valley decimate the offspring of a pair of Canada geese.

"People who think they know best tell us that kites are scavengers and only eat carrion, but their population has gone way beyond what dead animals will support."

A continual problem across the countryside is the activities of hare coursers who, Roger says, kill many big hares in the autumn, and buzzards and red kites take the leverets in the spring.

"I know of some estates and farms where they focussed on the trespass of coursers rather than the fate of the hares. It did not take them long to work out that if they didn't have hares, then the coursers wouldn't come. So they shot all the hares. Sad, but true."

As for Gomer, he is a dog built like a biscuit barrel on four legs who sleeps over 90 per cent of the time and much of his waking hours are spent staring at Roger as he sits in his armchair. Roger thinks it may be because he wants him to throw his favourite toy, a ball which he loves chasing, but there is a problem Gomer hasn't yet worked out.

"He never brings it back to where we can reach it."

Land of Milk and (No) Money is published by Ludlow-based Merlin Unwin Books and costs £14.99.

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