Over the stable door: Tales of grazing by the golf course have me tickled

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AT THE end of winter the bloodstock companies hold their biggest sales of the year and they begin on Monday. For weeks I have been trawling through catalogues until the early hours trying to narrow down suitable purchases to join our crew.

I have an owners’ morning to prepare for next month. It gives everyone involved with the yard a chance to get together, enjoy a few drinks and make a fuss of their horses, drawing a close on what’s been a triumphant jumps season for us at Brookleigh.

Much has altered in a year, I have learnt some harsh lessons on whom to trust, given another hard working girl the chance to realise her dream of riding in a race, built a new yard and met some great new owners. I still love my job and count myself lucky.

Felix’s four pet sheep - Fluffy, Daffodil, Roger (who is actually female) and Devil sheep (black with horns) are looking a little lost in their 10-acre field with grass up to their knees so last week I went to market and left with three ewes and six lambs, providing us with something for the freezer this back end. The new arrivals aren’t shy but two definite camps have formed in the field, it’s a ‘them and us’ scenario, the tame ones rush up noisily to complain to me every time I so much as look over the wall.

One lamb isn’t doing as well as the rest so we’ve taken to feeding it a bottle every evening. We must corner the new arrivals in the field in order to catch it, a task which has provided its moments. The sight of my partner Tris racing down the field at full pelt in his wellies, homemade crook outstretched, tripping on the uneven ground in his desperation to catch the escaped lamb has me howling with laughter. A man does not like to be out run by a lamb.

It wasn’t only sheep I purchased at Wharfedale Farmers Auction Market. I also left with a book packed full of old photographs on sale in the office. It is called ‘On this day at the Auction Market’ written by local auctioneer Mervyn Lister and details the history of both Bingley and Bridge End Auction Market in Otley before their closures in 1996 and 2000 respectively. It is packed full of the farming characters and events that affected the livestock trade from 1931 onwards, such as rationing, foot and mouth, the decline of the Shorthorn and the ups and downs suffered by our grandparents’ generation.

So many forgotten faces, though there is a photo of my jockey Sam Drake’s grandfather with his prizewinning shorthorn in the early 50s along with a wonderful story about my great Uncle Willy Foster from Burley in Wharfedale.

One market day in 1958 Uncle Willy sent in four strong Friesian bullocks to sell which had been grazing all summer on land adjoining Otley golf course. Two of them were bought by local butchers W. J. Middlemiss & Sons (whose butchers shop is just off the Market Square in Otley).

“When slaughtered the two cattle were found to have 31 golf balls in their stomachs, 17 in one and 14 in the other. The following week Mr Middlemiss told Mr Foster that there was no wonder his cattle had weighed so well in the market.”

If anyone is interested in the book, copies, priced £15, are available from Listers, Manor Square, Otley on 01943 462265 and at www.croftpublications.co.uk