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Transactions of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland
Wintering Hill Sheep


By Charles Scott, Cullivait, Dumfries.
[Premium—Twenty Sovereigns.]

The winter management of hill flocks has ever been a subject of supreme importance to the pastoral farmer, and when we consider the vast extent of hill and mountain land devoted to the rearing of sheep, it becomes apparent that we cannot too highly value a thorough knowledge of the best methods of bringing hill flocks through severe winters. From time to time, as far back as we have any record, periodical disasters through severe winters have occurred, and sometimes swept the hills of their entire flocks, or left them in an almost ruined condition. Whether the accounts given of the storms which prevailed during last century are authentic or exaggerated, we are scarcely able to judge. In any case, they are pictures of woeful destruction. One of the most remarkable on record is known as the "thirteen drifty days," which happened about the year 1620. During all that time, it is said, the storm never once abated. The frost was intense, and about the fifth or sixth day the young sheep began to fall into a sleepy and torpid state, and all those that were so affected in the evening died over night. The shepherds built high semicircular walls with the dead, to shelter the remainder of the living, but their efforts were of little avail. Large mis-shapen walls of dead, surrounding a small prostrate flock, likewise all dead, and frozen stiff in their lairs, were all that remained to cheer the forlorn shepherd and his master. But of all the storms, says Hogg, " which Scotland ever witnessed, or I hope ever will again behold, there are none of them that can once be compared with the memorable 24th January 1794, which fell with such peculiar violence on that division of the south of Scotland that lies between Crawford Muir and the Border. In that bounds there were 17 shepherds perished, and upwards of 30 carried home insensible, who afterwards recovered, but the number of sheep that perished far outwent any possibility of calculation. One farmer alone lost 72 scores, and many others from 30 to 40 scores each." From the number of sheep, as well as shepherds that perished on these occasions, we conclude several of the storms experienced during last century were of a more dreadful character than any that have occurred in this or the previous generation. It was no wonder the "Ettrick Shepherd" so truthfully portrayed them "as constituting the various eras in the pastoral life—as the red lines in the shepherd's calendar; the remembrancers of years and ages that are past— the tablets of memory by which the ages of his children, the times of his ancestors, and the rise and downfall of families can be ascertained. Even the progress of improvement in Scotch farming can be traced traditionally from these, and the rent of a farm or estate given with precision before and after such and such a storm." Whether the winters are as severe now as formerly, we cannot very well prove. The old folks say no; and we are inclined to credit this belief so far, from the fact that since draining and other improvements have been effected, the snow does not now accumulate to so great a depth. Still, we do not consider them materially milder, as even yet, with all our skill, the winter losses are by no means light; and were we to care for the flocks in the same way as they did of old, very similar results would follow.

Advancing prices for sheep in the early part of the century, together with a series of severe winters, were probably the means of awakening hill farmers to consider what means they could adopt to save their flocks from winter starvation. Greater attention was also paid to their breeding, but, from the oldest shepherds now living, we learn that progress both in the arts of feeding and breeding was exceedingly slow and primitive. In sheep farming, however, as in other industries, great advances have been made during this century. Farms have been fenced, pastures renovated, food and shelter provided, and the breeds of sheep improved in a wonderful degree. The present types of sheep are greatly different from the originals, and far superior both as mutton and wool producers. But with both Cheviots and blackfaces this improvement has meant a certain loss of hardiness. Some breeders are slow to admit this fact, but amongst hill sheep there is unfortunately abundant proof of less robustness. This makes the sheep more difficult to winter, as those who bred them too big for their land have experienced, and are now changing from one breed to another. Hill land can only carry sheep of a certain grade, and whenever they are bred above that point, the sheep will suffer, unless their wants be artificially supplied. Not a few Cheviots have been bred too fine for the conditions under which they are compelled to exist, and although many have found a substitute in the blackfaces, it is not too soon to take warning so as to prevent a similar mistake. In the management of hill flocks their breeding is a vital point, and unless it be zealously guarded, all other efforts will fail in keeping them profitably.

Winter feeding hill sheep was introduced early in the century, and as the practice gradually became known, so did severe winter losses gradually pass away. Since that time many systems have been adopted, all of which have been tried and approved or disapproved of. This is not to be wondered at, since so great a variety of circumstances bear on the result; and although all or any of the systems may have proved a failure, it is more than likely they had not been soundly applied, as there is convincing proof that where any system reasonably adapted for a particular farm has been practically carried out, good results have been obtained. There are four systems we could adopt in winter feeding hill sheep, viz.—

(1) Hay, (2) Turnips, (3) Artificial Food, and (4) Ensilage.

To these we can add the alternative of wintering from home. When feeding is resorted to, one or other of these methods has to be adopted. We will, therefore, consider the conditions under which each practice can be most successfully applied.

Hay.—Feeding hay is the oldest of these practices, and the one most generally adopted. Every one admits hay to be the most natural food we can supply to hill sheep, and it is invariably chosen in preference to any other. With plenty of hay no farmer need fear winter losses, and the expenses need not be unreasonable. There are, however, varieties of hay. Clover and ryegrass hay are not so well relished by hill sheep as the natural product of hill bogs and meadows, and no hay seems to give better results than that made from amongst their feet. Hay made upon arable land is doubtless of a higher feeding quality, and a less quantity ought to suffice; yet, even then, the after effect that invariably follows in the track of every kind of food, and which always appears sooner or later during the year, is more apparent than when natural hay has been given. This proves hill hay to be the most suitable for hill sheep, but as it is not always possible to secure it, there is sometimes no alternative but to use the other. Feeding with hay is practised wherever a supply can be had, and the quantity procurable determines the method of feeding. The practice of "haying" every winter, mild or severe, can only be adopted where sufficient is to be had —and these places are very rare—still, we are aware of a few who adopt this plan. It takes an enormous. quantity of hay where one or two thousand sheep are fed, and although we could not question the result as regards making good sheep, we believe the cost must surely exceed the profit. As an instance, however, of the result of this system, we may mention that on the farm of Girnwood, in Upper Teviotdale, Mr Scott cut more lambs this year (1885) than last. No other farmer in the district could say the same, and we must remember the latter was an exceptionally good year, and the former a very bad one.

It is only on very high grazings where feeding every winter is absolutely necessary, and in these cases the general plan is to remove the sheep. But between the highest and medium lying lands, we have another class of farms, where no hay can be grown, and in mild winters the sheep manage to do fairly well without any extra food. The custom, however, in these cases is a very hazardous one. No hay is provided, and when a storm comes on, the sheep are simply starved to as low a point as is considered safe, when they are removed to grass in the lowlands. It is impossible to tell how long a storm may last, or how soon it may break up, and it sometimes happens that the sheep are removed only a few days when they have to return. Such, however, is an agreeable mistake. It is in fickle weather, with a daily appearance of a thaw, when hopes are entertained day after day of a change, that often the most serious harm occurs.

The sheep are all the time suffering, and the owner knows it, but it is beyond his ken to know what to do for the best. Consequently, very often the flock is reduced to a condition from which it cannot recover before another year or perhaps a longer period. It is very natural to delay removing the sheep as long as there is hope of a change, but many have over and over again regretted this course. Those in such positions should always have wintering in view, and be prepared to move whenever occasion requires, and not put off till the time comes, when the delay and difficulty in obtaining grass in a suitable locality may cause very serious loss.

Wherever hay can be grown—and that implies the greater part of Scotland—the practice of feeding during storms only is extensively pursued. All, however, are not agreed as to what extent the sheep may be allowed to suffer before commencing to feed. The amount of hay on hand has to be considered, as well as the expense of feeding probably several thousand sheep for an uncertain period. Before any one commences to feed he has many points to consider. He has to place the extra cost of feeding against the probable loss from starvation, and loss of condition in the flock generally; and as he cannot tell how long a storm may last, or the ultimate expense, he is placed in a position requiring great practical knowledge both of the weather' and the condition of his sheep, otherwise he cannot figure when or when not to feed. By storms we mean the length of time the snow remains 6n the ground, or as long as what the shepherds call "stormed." In Scotland they vary from a few days to several months. On an average, a storm may be said to last about three weeks. As a rule, too, they come gradually. One coating of snow after another gradually getting deeper and deeper, until the grass is fairly out of the reach of the sheep, when they are said to be "stormed." Now, where the difficulty in management occurs is in the peculiarity of storms. One farm may be completely sealed, or only a part of it, while the neighbouring ground may be open, and the grass still partially accessible from the snow being blown by the wind. Then again, besides the varying depth of the snow, a good deal depends on the accompanying weather—whether the days be calm or windy, thawing or freezing. In calm quiet weather the sheep will work with astonishing perseverance in very deep snow, and manage to pick sufficient to sustain them; but when the days are cold, with a piercing wind or swirling drift, then a less depth will storm them. There is also a difference in a wet snow or a dry one; and a partial thaw followed by a hard frost is the worst of all. When the snow is covered with a coat of ice, the sheep are unable to break through it, and thus with only a very light snow the ground may be effectually stormed. Dry snows are dangerous as being liable to drift, but in quiet weather a dry snow is very deep before it does much harm. These are a few of the phases of a storm. They do not by any means embrace all the variations to be encountered, but they will serve to show that before we could point out when feeding is actually necessary, we would require a real case. Amongst stockmen themselves, various opinions prevail under similar circumstances. In a case where one would feed, another would not, and each would produce good reasons for so doing. When a storm passes away in a short time, most farmers would regret having fed, as the sheep being used to a different kind of food do not take so readily again to their pastures. They keep hanging about the places where they have been foddered, and do not go in search of food with the same energy as those that have never been fed. Those that have never got any hay do not look for it, and a bit touch of hunger seems to give them a keener sense of their duty in caring for themselves, and so it happens that feeding sometimes does harm. But as we never know how long a storm may last, it is best to feed as soon as necessary; and when sheep have once been fed, the feeding should be continued until they prefer not to come for it. Let all changes of feeding be done gradually, even should the weather be fresh, and the flock will soon take to their usual fare and go on well.

The elements we cannot control, and have to take them as they come, but success or failure in wintering hill flocks greatly depends on the methods we adopt in providing the food and in giving it. In summer, hay should be made and stacked at the best sheltered places on the farm, where a "stell" is already provided, and where there is likely to be a portion of rough ground available during a storm. Too many sheep should not be fed together at one place, as it is more difficult to give every one their share when the "cuts" are big. Small lots are also easier to move to the bare ground adjacent, and the more divisions there are, the more food will be within their reach. In feeding hay a very common practice is to scatter it in handfuls on the top of the snow, and the sheep will eat it up wonderfully clean. This plan, however, is wasteful in windy weather. Some have hecks for putting the hay in, which is about the best way of feeding it, only these are rather expensive. Others again have bag-nets of cord stretched from two stakes, but lately wire-netting has been used with good success. A double fence of wire netting, set closely together and attached to stakes, makes a cheap and handy heck, and one easily removed and not liable to summer waste. The sheep need never at any time get all the hay they will eat—just as much as keeps them hearty, and according to the amount of grass they can pick besides. Care should also be taken when feeding to see that all get a share. Some are very backward, and prefer to stand aside, while the greedy ones eat it all up ; but plenty of room at the heck, and a few handfuls put down for those on the outside, will generally put all of them straight. They should get their hay as early in the morning as possible, and then the shepherd takes them out to any bare ground he can rind, where they will pick what grass they can reach. It may be necessary for the shepherd to stay by them the whole day, as if left to themselves the sheep are apt to get discouraged from getting amongst deep snow, or the day may be rough and they would rather seek a shelter. In the evening they should have another foddering of hay, but it is always best to give them the biggest share in the morning. A careful man, who is really interested in his work, can do many little acts for the good of his sheep during a storm, and on these the welfare of the flock greatly depends.

Turnips.—Turnips as a winter food for breeding hill sheep are not approved of. In the first place sheep have to be accustomed to turnips for some time before they will eat them readily, and this during a storm does not answer, as the flocks are in too weak a condition to go through the process of learning; and secondly, when turnips are used they cause the sheep to fail in their mouths sooner than the usual time for drafting hill ewes, which in itself is sufficient to class turnips as an unsuitable food for this purpose. But although turnips are not approved of for ewes, they are at the same time extensively used as a winter food for wedder flocks—wedder hirsels being generally on the highest ground on the farm, and in high districts, where, owing to bleak springs, a ewe flock would not succeed. For one or two months in the year they would most likely require extra feeding any way, so that it suits very well to take them to turnips during that time. As wedders are drafted at an earlier age than ewes, the tooth question does not affect them. Then while the turnips are a good substitute for pasture, and bring the wedders through a critical period, they are also a great help in improving them in size and strength, which is very desirable when they are brought out to market. In all parts where wedder flocks are kept and winter feeding is necessary, turnips seem to be the food preferred in almost every instance; and on half-hill farms, where other systems of management are pursued, they also form the chief winter resource. Full turnips are of course not given to sheep that are again to go to the hill—they are only given as a supplement to hay or grass, getting a run on to turnips a few hours daily.

Artificial Food.—Artificial food for hill sheep in severe winters is still an unsettled point among hill farmers, and one

on which very conflicting opinions exist. It has at any rate been well tried, and while some say good results have been obtained by it, others again give quite a contrary experience. Several of these have already been given on the subject, but undoubtedly that of Professor Wallace, as published last year, is the most favourable account of the practice on record. The Professor concludes, "that better results are obtained by giving concentrated and bulky food together than either separately." We all agree to that, but, when sheep are stormed, and are not able to get the bulky food, how will concentrated food stand alone? Very frequently the ground is so deeply covered with snow that not a bite of grass or heather can be had, when the sheep might as well be in a bare field, where we will also suppose not a single blade of grass exists. Now, such an occurrence is not uncommon, and may be experienced any winter. In such a case, without hay, would corn alone be a suitable food? No; it is impossible to prevent ruin by feeding store animals of any kind for a length of time solely on concentrated food; and as it frequently happens that the amount of pasture available on a hill during a storm is equally the same as in the bare field, how can any one under these conditions prove corn to be a profitable food? To have sheep confined either in a bare field, or on a hill where natural food was for the time almost inaccessible, it may be possible to avert present losses by artificial feeding, but at the same time it could not be done without permanent injury to their constitutions. In extreme weather, when grass or hay is unattainable, artificial food would be condemned. Let us therefore consider it in a moderate aspect.

Fortunately, our winters are generally of a milder character, with vegetation not altogether lost in oblivion, so that the sheep can still obtain more or less natural food. They may be able to secure only a portion of the amount necessary for their existence, however; and the question is, Can we by artificial means successfully make up the deficiency? This is the disputed point, and one which seriously concerns every hill farmer. In cold, bleak springs many would gladly provide artificial food for their flocks, were they convinced it would be profitable to do so. But throughout Scotland there are very few flockmasters who believe in it. All the same, we welcome any methods that can be shown to be an improvement on the old; and although we may not agree with them, they deserve our attention. In the report already mentioned, we are given an account of the winter management pursued at Twiglees, and the results are shown to be highly satisfactory. We have now to notice how these were accomplished. Firstly, the experiment was made upon sheep all thoroughly healthy, and not upon a draft of the leanest drawn from the flock; secondly, the winters are described as being about the average in severity. The experiment was made, in fact, not so much to test the value of com in any particular storm, as to estimate whether, at a season of the year when vegetation is generally very dead, the sheep could be profitably assisted through a usually trying period. The conditions in this case are altogether different from the one previously mentioned. Here, there was never at any time an entire absence of bulky material which the sheep could always make use of along with the corn. Another important point to observe is, that the sheep which were earliest fed and not reduced too much in condition did best, and those in lower condition and fed for a shorter period did not do so well. To this experience we could add similar testimony from a few others, but there are none of them so definite, or, strictly speaking, purely hill farmers. They have all a good share of arable land to fall back upon which might not be considered so genuine a trial. However, we are acquainted with several farmers who have successfully used artificial food in severe winters, and although arable land was available had it been required, their experience was entirely distinct and confined to regular hill stock.

Others who have tested artificial feeding on purely hill farms speak differently, and as an example, we give the experience of Mr E. C. Boothby, late tenant of Hyndhope, Selkirkshire, who says:—"My object was to try if by artificial means I could make my farm carry more sheep than ordinarily. I took a cut of 12 score ewes and hoggs, and to these I added 3 score more which I bought. By this means I hoped to improve the 12 score, and what the 3 extra score produced I hoped would pay for the bought-in food. About the middle of February 1880, I began to give ¼ lb. of bruised Indian corn, which towards lambing time was increased to ½ lb., and when the grass came, this allowance was gradually decreased and finally stopped. The sheep and lambs all throve well, but were no better than others on the farm which got nothing. The summer being very dry the land got droughted, and sheep were rather hungered, and consequently fell off in condition. I was told this was the result of feeding with corn, but I thought it was owing to the drought. Next year I treated them the same way, putting, however, a little salt among the corn, and was congratulating myself that, whatever the rest of the sheep on the farm did, these ones would bring up their lambs and do well. After lambing time they were not only the worst sheep I had, but the death-rate was very heavy, especially among the hoggs, many of which died full of water. On the other hand, those fed with hay did fairly well. If the natural grass on our hills could be improved, feeding I am sure would pay; as it is, however, it is not strong enough to keep the sheep thriving after receiving corn." On a half-hill and arable farm our own experience agrees with this result. The turnip crop was occasionally so light that the portion intended for the hill sheep in spring could not be spared, and as a substitute for these we frequently tried corn or cake. One of these winters we fed 300 Cheviot ewes, with a mixture of cotton cake and oats, from the New Year till the later part of April. There was nothing unusual in the season. The winter and spring were about an average, and the grass was well come before the feeding was discontinued. The amount of food given was ½lb. at starting, and increased to 1 lb. per sheep daily. It was also gradually reduced as the weather became milder in spring. The following summer was an exceedingly favourable one for hill sheep, yet the small flock we had brought so well through the winter did not seem to know it. From beginning to end they never perceptibly improved in condition, scarcely grew any wool, would hardly clip, and their lambs were the worst we ever weaned from that ground. These sheep never fully recovered from the effects of that feeding, and as long as they remained on the farm did badly. On other occasions, owing to barren springs, we fed on corn with no better results, and the longer the sheep were fed the worse they seemed to do the following summer. The description of land may have had something to do with the after bad effects, as the farm referred to is of a light mixed soil, with little or no solid feeding ground, and possibly the corn was a deal richer feeding than the hill could afterwards maintain. In the letters following it will be seen that corn for hill sheep is not in favour among the majority of farmers.

Ensilage.—This is the coming winter food for hill sheep. It has not as yet been extensively tested, but any trials that have been made have given great satisfaction. It has been well tried with lowland sheep, and all who have succeeded in making a good sample speak highly of its merits. In the hope that hill farmers who are not fully acquainted with the properties of ensilage will probably be induced to give it fuller attention, we deduce the following points regarding it from the replies received from all parts of the country by the Ensilage Commission instituted by the Agricultural Department of the Privy Council:—

1. That the preservation of green crops by the ensilage process is a valuable auxiliary to farm practice, affording safety to the whole crop produced, and a means of utilising substances almost valueless or otherwise waste.

2. That silos may be constructed either above or partly below the ground level, a few, and some of the best being altogether below ground.

3. The stacking process received very attenuated evidence, but its desirability was evident, and the present season will afford ample evidence as to the economy of making ensilage without a silo, a £25 prize being offered by the Royal Agricultural Society of England.

4. That any kind of green fodder may be ensiled, and for most crops chaffing is recommended, but in the case of meadow hay much excellent ensilage has been made from unchaffed grass.

5. A great number of devices have been adopted to give the supposed necessary pressure. That the necessary amount of weighting and pressure is undecided, good results being reached from 7 lbs. to 70 lbs. and upwards.

6. The moot point of extra costs in carting green forage as against dry hay, and, per contra, the costs saved through not having to make hay, gave varied opinions, but the balance of testimony is that making ensilage is less costly than making hay, even in ordinary weather.

7. That at any time after two months from the filling the siloed crops are available for feeding, and will remain good for over a year.

8. That ensilage for cows in milk and ewes in lamb is superior to most other winter provender, and that it may yet be used as a valuable health agent, as well as a food for stock.

In Scotland silos and ensilage are yet in their infancy, the first having been opened on 17th February 1883. Since that time, however, they have rapidly increased, and now number 161. Mr W. M. Oliver, Howpasley, Hawick, was one of the first hill farmers in Scotland to erect a silo; and to prove that good silage can be made even among the hills, it may be mentioned that Mr Oliver took first prize from among 115 entries, for the best sample of natural unchaffed grass, at the Smithfield Club Show, December 1884. This gentleman has kindly given us his experience with silage, which is of much interest, and is as follows:—"In preparing silage I cut as much grass in the morning as I expect to be able to put in that day, and immediately draw it into rows with the horse rake. I then begin to lead it, using carts with sheep frames. It is laden from the rows with grapes, with a boy or girl in the cart to tramp it; then led to the top of the silo and tipped, when one man forks it in, while two others spread it equally in layers over the surface of the silo, and as each layer is finished, the spreaders give it a good tramp over. I press with dead weights, and part of pressure is put on each night after filling. I prefer to put the grass in damp. The only sheep that I have wintered on silage were 16 tup hoggs last winter, when I gave it to them, instead of roots and hay, with the same amount of Indian corn as I had been in the habit of giving them in former years. They certainly never were better brought out, if ever so well. It was given them in a rack like hay, as much as they liked to eat. The cost was about 8s. 6d. per ton, calculating 45 cubic feet to the ton. I have no doubt that it would be very good for hill sheep, and I do not think there would be any difficulty in learning them to eat it in hard weather."

Sir James T. Stewart Richardson, Pitfour Castle, who has been taking great interest in the subject, has also favoured us with his views on ensilage. He says:—"Last year I proved silage made in a built silo, under my own mode of pressure, to be a complete success, without the least waste; and I am now trying the same pressure in a stack, and have every hope that the slight waste at the outside will not be so great, and therefore will more than compensate for not having the expense of building a silo. I am of opinion that silage feeding during a storm is very advantageous, and silo-stacks, such as I am trying this season for home use, could easily be made in portions convenient for feeding hill sheep. Silage feeding for ewes I believe to be very good, although some people say it should not be carried on too close to the lambing."

Mr R. Everard Jones, Glenmoidart, Argyllshire, says:— "The importance of ensilage to the Highland farmers cannot be overestimated. Subjected as we are to so much rain, it is at all times a difficult matter to secure our hay, and frequently the hay we are enabled to make is so black and inferior in quality, that it is hardly of any value for feeding purposes. This year I have turned an old building into a silo, which I have lately opened, and I find my silage is in splendid condition, notwithstanding that the bulk of the grass was cut and carted in pouring rain—the last five cart-loads which were cut out at the side of the loch, being completely under water, compelling the men who cut it to remove their shoes and stockings, whilst the water streamed out of the carts that carried the grass to the silo. All the people about here have been shaking their heads over the amount of good hay I have, as they thought, wasted in the silo, but now I expect even the crofters will be trying it next year."

In the schedule of questions sent out by the Ensilage Commission, there was no particular mention of ensilage as a food for sheep, yet several of the replies contained the following remarks, which are very noteworthy, from Scotch farmers:—

W. Aiton, Sandford Lodge, Peterhead.—"Ensilage given to lambing ewes, who did fairly well on it, but cannot say better than on good hay."

G. Bain, Oldmill Farm, Aberdeen.—"A good nourishing food for breeding ewes."

A. Creighton, Fortree, Ellon.—"A flock of Cheviot ewes, fed for six weeks on ensilage, did remarkably well."

R. E. Findlay, Barnhill, Dumbarton.—"Lambs of some blackfaced ewes, which got ensilage in April 1884, throve very well."

M. C. Yorstoun, Irvine House, Canonbie.—"For ewes silage is an excellent and economical food."

T. Barr, Harburn, West Calder.—"Fed silage to lambing ewes, with excellent results."

G. Mackay, Corriegour, Inverness.—"150 sheep fed on ensilage throve well."

From repeated trials of our own with ensilage in America, we have no hesitation in saying its value for hill sheep only requires to be known to become generally adopted. In Minnesota considerable numbers of sheep are kept, and during five months in the year they require hand-feeding. There the snow gets from 2 to 3 feet deep every winter, which completely covers up all vegetation. In summer the sheep are grazed on prairie land, which were any Scotchman to walk over unaware of being in America, he could tell no difference from the grass under his feet from that which composes the grassy hill lands in the south of Scotland. I was often struck with the similarity, not only in the grasses, but in the weeds and wild flowers. With a difference in the temperature there, the conditions are otherwise very similar to hill farming at home, when we have at all a severe winter. While there we tested ensilage against hay and hay and corn, with a flock of native sheep. The result was, that in the spring, when we quit feeding, the sheep fed on ensilage alone were superior to those on hay, and quite equal to those that, in addition to hay, got about ½lb. of Indian corn daily. They were all grazed together on the same prairie, and I took particular notice of their summer condition. They all did very well, but at shearing time the ensilage-fed sheep had the fattest lambs, and those that had corn the worst. The silage was prepared from meadow grass every way alike to what a natural meadow produces here, and it cost much about the same to prepare as hay—and hay is very easily made there. Against all this evidence we cannot produce one single unfavourable report, and for further testimony we have only to refer to the inquiry made and published last year by the Highland and Agricultural Society. It is at least quite clear that hill farmers, who are so much dependent on a short time in summer for securing their crop of hay, can by means of ensilage provide a supply of winter food every way equal to the best hay, regardless of either rain or drought.

Wintering from home, as an alternative to hand feeding, is a system widely adopted throughout Scotland. It is one, however, which is but reluctantly resorted to. But on high farms, where it is impossible to secure hay, no other method can be pursued when artificial food is not approved of. In the Highlands, the practice of wintering the hoggs away is about the only method adopted. They are taken from the hills in the later part of October, and sent to the arable farms in the Lowlands. Cattle graziers have no difficulty in disposing of their winter grass to sheep farmers, who prefer such wintering to either turnips or corn. In severe weather the ewe hoggs are not allowed anything but hay in addition to the grass, and the wedders generally get turnips. Grass alone for hoggs costs from 4s. to 6s. per head, according to the quality of the wintering. Turnips cost from £4 to £8 per acre, or they are sometimes taken by the week at from 4d. to 6d. per head. Years ago, sheep farming in the Highlands was greatly stimulated by turnip-hogging or wintering away; but while this remains a necessity, it has become so serious an expense as to be one of the greatest obstacles to the letting of sheep farms. In the south, where the system partially prevails, the hoggs are removed about 1st November, somewhat later than is done in the north. The winter grazings in the south are principally found in dairy districts, and cost about 6s. per sheep. Removing the hoggs considerably lightens the winter stock on the farm, which is no small advantage. In some cases the gimmers and a few of the leanest of the ewes are also sent to low ground about New Year time, and brought back along with the hoggs about the 1st of April. But not a few flockmasters, rather than pay extra wintering for gimmers, do not have them in lamb. They have their first lamb at three years, and by that time are strong and do better afterwards. In some districts many are also compelled to remove their hoggs on account of braxy, independently of the weather. Ewes are only taken to wintering in severe storms when no other food has been provided. Wintering hoggs on low grounds is a heavy item, and together with the ordinary rent often makes the expense more than it is worth. Indeed, since prices for wool and store sheep have become so low, it has almost reduced the value of poor hill lands to nothing at all. There never was a time of greater need for some cheap method of wintering than at present, and although neither feeding with hay, corn, nor ensilage can be done at a less cost than the prices paid for winter grazing, we believe there is great room to modify this expense, by a judicious combination of the home pasture with one or other of the systems of feeding discussed.

Methods adopted in various Districts.—We have great pleasure in producing the various practices of winter management pursued throughout Scotland, kindly supplied by many well-known leading farmers. Where opinions differ, we should not forget that the surrounding circumstances might very possibly supply the reason. Commencing at the Cheviot Hills, we will go gradually north; and although many districts are necessarily left out, the farms mentioned are a fair sample of the whole.

Northumberland—By Jacob Robson, Byrness.—"In Reed-water, Cheviots are the principal stock, although blackfaces have increased in numbers lately. We have a freestone land, clay subsoil, also part limestone land. The pastures are benty, but some of the hills have very good grass on them. There is also a good deal of heather and ling in some parts. Hoggs round here are all wintered at home, except the very worst, which are taken to lower grazings. In a bad winter I have seen mine put on to seeds in March at from 6d. to Is. per week. Sickness amongst hoggs during the autumn and early winter carries off great numbers in this district. Some farmers try a change of pasture, but it is hard to tell what to do to prevent it, as hoggs have often got lean by shifting them off their own ground to other hill pasture. I do not approve of feeding hay to hill sheep every winter, as sheep do not go over the ground properly after being accustomed to receive it. I never feed as long as the sheep can do without, but there is a great difference of farms for sheep doing well after hay. Where there is heather there is not so much risk in giving it as when there is only white bent land. I have never tried hill sheep with cake or corn, and do not consider either likely to give good results. I have seen ewes that got corn in lambing time do well then, yet they would hardly clip at all at the regular clipping time. On land where there is pining I find turnips a good change for wedders. After a bad winter or spring it is a great deal better to take grass for lean ewes than give them either turnips or corn, although I would rather give the former than the latter if grass was not easily got. I have not tried ensilage, as I think it would take too long to accustom the sheep to the taste of it. Stells are considered of great advantage in our district, and if well placed and plenty of them, you can keep sheep in smaller numbers during a storm, and thus they can get better to the different blown parts."

Roxburghshire—By George Douglas, Hindhope.—"The soil in this district is generally of a gravelly nature, unless high up, then it gets more mossy and mixed with heather. On the dry hills the grass is fine and sweet. We keep our ewes till five years old, and do not take lambs off them until they are three, as the gimmers cannot bring lambs owing to the ground being stormy. The wedders are sold at two and three years. We always try to winter our ewe hoggs at home—not amongst the ewes, but by themselves—and as soon as we get a good covering of snow learn them to hay. The wedder hoggs mostly go to turnips, costing from 3d. to 5d. a week, according to the crop. My experience is the less hay given the better, although in severe springs, such as last, on bare fine land, hay certainly does good given every day. I have tried feeding hill sheep with a mixture of cake, corn, and locust beans, but the sheep summered badly afterwards. I do not approve of turnips to any extent, but to few lean ewes they are the best thing that can be given, as sheep thrive better after turnips than corn. In stormy winters stells are of great advantage to hill sheep, and prevent them from being blown away in a drifty night."

Dumfriesshire—By A. H. Borthwick, Hopsrig.—"My system of wintering hill sheep is to have hay, as much as I think will be required, or as much as I can make, put up on the most suitable and sheltered feeding grounds during autumn. Care must be used not to select a spot likely to blow up with snow. I feed the sheep during storms with this when they can be got to eat it, but many sheep will rather starve than eat the best hay, so that on the whole a genial open spring is the best help for a hard winter."

Galloway—By James Brydon, jun., Holm of Dalquhairn.— "Owing to the bad seasons we have had for the last ten years, many different plans have been tried in wintering hill stock. The general system in this district is to winter the hoggs away, mostly in Ayrshire, from the 1st of November to 1st April, and on some of the highest places the gimmers and a few lean sheep are taken down the country about the New Year, and sent back before lambing time. A few of my neighbours have been in the habit of giving all their ewes Indian corn, some of these bad springs, just laid down on the bare spots on the hill, and they seem to take to it very readily. Our plan has always been to winter our hoggs at home, unless in some of these bad seasons when one is forced to keep all the ewe lambs we winter away. But we always find that the hoggs wintered at home make the hardiest and best doing sheep, and the cost of wintering away is a great addition to the already too big rents. In the month of January we have a look through the flock, and bring in any lean ewe or hogg, and give them bog hay and the run of the fields. When each herd can look after his own it generally suits best. In the time of a storm we give all the sheep hay, and find they do best on bog hay—in fact, what is made among their feet seems to suit them best. When it can be had, every herd should have a year's hay beforehand. Sheep should always be foddered twice a day in a storm—before the sun is up and before sunset. Turnips or corn for hill stocks do not answer a good end. Any that get them should be sent off next back end, as they are certain to get lean the following spring; in fact, before the New Year they will show leanness should they be kept on, and would require the same feeding again or they die. Corn is our last resort, and any that get it are never kept on. It is a great advantage to have plenty of good stells in the proper places on a high farm, and one or two small parks enclosed with stone dikes 4 or 5 acres in each for hay, and a keb-house at them on each hirsel, is a great help to pull things through in a bad season. A good careful herd is also one of the best helps, and one that has been a good number of years at the same place."

Dumfriesshire—By James Moffat, Gateside.—"We have a mossy soil in this district, growing deer-hair, bent, spret, and draw moss. The hoggs are principally sent to lower grazings in winter—to the dairy farms in Ayrshire, where wintering costs from 6s. and 8s. per head. I do not approve of turnips for hill sheep, as they cause them to lose their teeth very soon. I think cake or corn does not give satisfactory results, and tends to make the sheep soft. I would only feed during a storm, and then, I prefer hay. On land where there is no draw moss, I find the sheep very much benefited by getting hay every day through February and March. I have not tried ensilage, but I think silos at different parts of a hill quite practicable, if placed where the material for filling them would not be too far to cart. Stells are of great use. In stormy weather they are absolutely necessary, particularly on land where there are long straight hill faces, with no small heights and hollows for shelter."

Lanarkshire—By J. W. Hamilton, Woolfords.—"The soil in this district is mostly deep damp land, and grows very good pasture, consisting of heather, bent, draw moss, and green land. We have only blackfaced sheep in this quarter. A number of the hoggs are wintered at home, the others are sent to wintering, which is to be had in the lower parts of the county. From 10th October to 10th April is what is understood by the term wintering, and cost from 6s. to 8s. per head. Some people prefer the best grass for wintering, but I object to this. I think hoggs should be wintered in conformity to the hill they are to go on. I would on no account use cake or corn for the general stock. When I see a lean ewe I take her near the steading, and recruit her with cake or corn, but I do not winter her again. I do not approve of turnips either. Corn, cake, and turnips are all good for sheep, but not to be afterwards returned to the hill. I have not tried ensilage, but I would prefer hay, as I think a dry bite better than a damp one for sheep that are getting so much moist damp grass. Hay is never used in this district except in snowstorms, and my experience is that when feeding is resorted to it requires to be kept up. I may say I have tried hay to a greater extent than any person within 12 miles of here. I put the hay in hecks, so that the sheep should get it dry. I expected them all to get a little, but always a few lazy greedy ewes just lived on the hay, and the rest did not get their share. A little dry hay, if it could be properly divided, is a first-class thing for hill sheep. Stells are of great advantage on level plain-lying land, and I have erected a few on my farm. Natural shelter, however, is to be preferred. A very important thing in wintering hill sheep is to see they come in contact with many different kinds of grasses every day. Some hills are mixed so that the sheep cannot go wrong, others are not, and the sheep should be turned round as well as possible."

Mid-Lothian—By James Archibald, Overshiels.—"We have a dry light soil, with moss land on hill tops, sloping to the burns. The hoggs are wintered at home. I do not approve of turnips for hill sheep, and would only feed hay during a storm. I have tried cake and corn in barren springs when there was no vegetation, and such feeding will bring ewes and lambs through when bog hay would be ineffectual. Care should be taken to turn the sheep regularly away from the troughs, and the feeding should be continued until the grass comes. It is apt, however, to have a bad effect upon the sheep in the following season. In very severe winters removing the leanest sheep to grass on low ground in a good climate, frequently produces better results than any feeding on the hills."

Perthshire—By Col. Stirling, Kippendavie.—"The soil in this neighbourhood is light and sandy, with a rather retentive subsoil. It is generally well adapted for growing grass. There is not much heather on the Ochil Hills, which are considered very healthy for sheep. The hoggs are mostly sent to low grazings in winter, found in the Carse of Stirling and Kippen, Alloa district, and in through Fife and lower Strathearn. Wintering cost from 4s. to 6s. per hogg. I think hill sheep should be fed only during a storm. If hay be given care must be taken when the snow disappears not to allow the sheep to feed too freely on grass, as it is apt to bring on fatal scouring. Corn could be given, but on a large grazing this plan is scarcely workable, and would prefer turnips instead. I consider ensilage a very good substitute for hay. Every hill farm should have a few silos erected in sheltered places. Stells are a great benefit, especially to blackfaced sheep."

Aberdeenshire—By P. M. Turnbull, Smithston.—"The hoggs are always wintered away. They leave the hills in October and return in March or early April, and are generally wintered on arable land, but a run of rough pasture along with it is most desirable. Large numbers of hoggs are wintered in the Buchan district of this county, but the whole county may be said to afford winter grazing for hoggs at a cost of 4s. or 5s. per head.

I do not approve of feeding hill sheep every winter. Giving hay to them unless when absolutely necessary is bad management, as the sheep depend on it, and will not look for their natural food. Of course, in deep snow, when nothing else is available, it must be done; and it is wisdom for every hill farmer to provide for such a contingency. Cake or corn may be used with much advantage in the spring for ewes. Frequently a number of them are very lean and short of milk. These should be drawn out and given an allowance of box food. I do not approve of turnips, for the same reasons given as to feeding hay, and because they have a tendency to make them go in the mouths. The great drawback hill farmers suffer from in this district is the want of shelter. Most of the grazings are high and exposed, and any means of providing shelter at a cheap rate would greatly benefit. Stells and belts of wood are greatly needed."

Argyllshire—By W. E. Oliver, Benbuy.—"The only method that I adopt to bring hill sheep through a severe winter, is to cut and win as much hay on the hill as possible, and have it put into winter ricks in the most sheltered parts of the hill, where it can be given to the sheep during a snowstorm. I salt the hay as the ricks are built. There are, however, many farms in Argyllshire where hay cannot be got, and the sheep are allowed to subsist on what they can gather for themselves from under the snow. Many farmers send their hoggs in winter to the south and east country, and also to some of the islands on the west coast, to save them from dying of braxy, which lightens the stock on the farm."

Inverness-shire—By Walter Archibald, Manager, Garthbeg.— "Regarding the custom of bringing hill sheep through severe winters in Inverness-shire, I may say the management is quite different from the methods in the south, as the summer ground here is unfit for sheep during the winter season. When lambing is finished the hoggs, wedders, and eild sheep are sent to the high ground, and the shepherd stays with them in a bothy or hut as long as the sheep are up. After clipping—about the beginning of July—the ewes also are kept well up off the low ground, so as to have it clean for the lambs to go on after weaning—about the 12th of August or so. Then the ewes are taken to the high ground, and kept along with the hoggs and wethers, until about the 20th of September, when the cast ewes are drawn out, and given a fortnight on the low ground before sending to market. In the later part of September or beginning of October all the stock are brought in from the high ground. The hoggs are then sent away to wintering, which begins, according to the district, from September to the end of October. Besides hoggs the dinmonts and gimmers are also occasionally wintered away, but not so many of the latter as the former. Aberdeen, Moray, Nairn, and Banffshires, and the lower districts of Inverness are the principal wintering grounds in the north, and the cost is from 6s. to 8s. per head, according to the location. But the price we are in the habit of paying on one of the best arable farms at Beauly is 3d. per head per week, for pasture alone—having to pay sometimes for hay over and above. The prices for turnips vary from £5 to £7 per acre, or from 4d. to 6d. per week. I do not approve of turnips for ewe hoggs, as they make them lose their teeth too soon, but the wethers are stronger by getting a few from January to April along with rough pasture. The sheep are taken home about the 1st of April, but it is a month too soon. My experience is that in nine years out of ten the ground they have to go on is still covered with snow, and it does not answer well to mix them with the ewes. As to feeding hill sheep generally, I do not approve of it; and as long as it is possible for them to do without it, hand feeding should be avoided. It is a good plan to go over the flock in October, and draw out the leanest ewes, and give them a month on the low ground before the rest come in from the summer ground. The sheep should be kept on the high ground as long as possible, or as long as they are taking no hurt. Then, instead of running to feed at the first appearance of snow, the shepherd should guide them over the best places where they will find some roughness to work, and if the weather is so cold that the sheep will not stay out by themselves, he will stay with them during the middle of the day till they fill themselves. When feeding has to be done, I think it better to take the sheep off their own ground, as after having been fed one season, they will remember the place, and on the first sight of snow will hang around it instead of trying the ground, as they would otherwise do. It is often very difficult for farmers to get hay up to the hills for their sheep, and I am thinking of learning our ewe hoggs to the use of corn boxes. By teaching them to eat cut hay and corn from boxes we can then use artificial food to more satisfaction. When hill sheep do not know what boxes are, and are generally in such low condition before feeding is put in force, it is almost impossible to get them to eat anything but hay. I think no one should take a hill farm that has not got a low country farm, or is not prepared with grass to take the leanest of the ewes to in spring, as not only will there be a lower death-rate, but the number of lambs will be increased by about one-half. If the sheep are healthy they will most likely take home a lamb, and the advantage to those at home will also be considerable. Another bad plan in a high district is to take gimmer lambs. There should only be a percentage of them put to the ram, or sufficient to bring what lambs we want to lift for putting to ewes that may have a lamb die. It is the springs not the winters that tell so heavily on sheep in Inverness-shire. We can keep them till February well enough most winters, but after that comes the trouble. I think it is penny wise and pound foolish to see sheep dying when they could be saved by taking grass for them. All through winter a man should be on the edge of his foot, but particularly in March, should he be on the look-out for the leanest and remove them to better keep; that is the way to bring them well through any winter. Stocking heavier in summer than you can keep in winter is also to be avoided. If you can only winter 1500 and summer 3000, then I say keep only 1500. It may pay to take summering for wintering more, but not wintering for summering."

Caithness.—By William Laing, Skail.—"As a general rule, it is neither good nor expedient that hill sheep should be hand fed, unless it is absolutely necessary, as they do not take to the hill feeding afterwards. But in severe winters, such as 1878-79-80 and 81, if they had not got artificial feeding, they would have died, and in a good many cases there was an extremely heavy death, even with the feeding they got, which in this county and Sutherlandshire was principally clover hay taken from the arable land in Caithness, and in some places from Ross-shire by train. Previous to 1878-79 the hill farmers in the north had made no provision for feeding their sheep in a snowstorm, as the winters for nearly twenty years were very open and free from any lengthened storm. And at best it is a very difficult matter to have provisions prepared for a stock of three or four thousand sheep for the matter of a week, not to speak of a couple of months. I consider, however, that hill farmers should have provision for a fortnight or three weeks at least. Meadow hay is the very best feed for hill stock they can get; the next is clover hay, which of course is largely used here, being more plentiful; but the great difficulty is in bringing it to the stock when every road is blocked with snow, in which case they have to bring the sheep to the most accessible place. ¼ lb. to ½lb. of oats is a splendid feed for them also, but great complaints are made that they do not thrive so well afterwards. Another feed for those who have it is to give oat sheaves, as a general rule, spread out on the snow, and which the sheep will pick up quite cleanly. But for all the expense, 1½-inch-wire netting on strong stakes is the most economical in every way, not only for the sheep in getting well at their food, but it saves any of the hay from being trampled on and so destroyed. Twenty yards of wire-netting will easily accommodate 100 sheep. Common sheep-netting is also used, but a good deal more hay is destroyed in that way. As a general rule, all the worst sheep are regularly drawn out from the flock every winter, and taken down to the low country, where they get a pick of grass, and where possible a few turnips if they are plentiful, and if a snowstorm comes on they get clover hay and some oats; but the latter must be given very sparingly at first, and gradually increased as the sheep improve in condition. As far as my own opinion goes, I have no hesitation in saying that in very stormy winters the best food for taking through hill stock is to give meadow hay if attainable, or clover hay, with a little oats in boxes as the safest and cheapest. No doubt, linseed cake would also do well enough instead of oats, but would make the sheep much softer, and at the same time in a good many cases be more difficult to get and more expensive. I would recommend hill farmers to be in some measure prepared for a storm in winter, by having hay and oats available, and wire-netting for the hay and boxes for the corn. With these on hand they could more than save the extra expense, not only, in keeping their sheep alive, but having their stock in much better condition. The extra feeding no doubt makes hill sheep too soft for their pasture afterwards, but it is better to have the sheep alive than lose them altogether. Apart from feeding altogether, I consider that with the high prices for wool from 1864 to 1874, a good many hill farmers went in for big soft sheep which would grow a lot of wool, and did not consider that the climate did not suit them, and when the wet summers and stormy winters came they succumbed altogether. Those who stuck to the old hardy breed did not suffer nearly so much, as they will stand a far longer storm, even without artificial feeding, than these soft ones do with it; this is in reference to the Cheviot breed."

These letters speak for themselves. They are the honest opinions of a select and highly intelligent body of the hill farmers of Scotland. There is no prejudice or biassed judgment shown as regards any of the methods, and they have merely been given to tell the customs of the district and their own experience in bringing hill flocks through severe winters. There is a difference of opinion on some of the points, yet in all there is a wonderful agreement. The whole of the evidence as regards feeding might be summed up thus:—

1. That hill sheep should not be fed until it becomes absolutely necessary, and that it will not pay to do so otherwise.

2. That under certain conditions cake or corn may be advisable, but as a rule should be avoided.

3. That turnips may be given with advantage to wether sheep, but are not recommended for ewes.

4. That hay is the best food for hill sheep, but that grass may still further be used with good effect in the shape of ensilage.

5. That on high farms removing the sheep to low ground is expensive, but as yet the cheapest method known.

6. That stells are a great advantage to hill sheep, and that by proper management heavy losses through severe winters may be averted.

To carry out any of the systems advised, it will appear that a certain amount of preparation is necessary. Before hay can be food it has first to be grown, and about the only satisfactory way of accomplishing that is by enclosures or meadows. No hill farm can be said to be prepared for winter until it can show a certain acreage of enclosed land, and any farm destitute of such is worth just so much less. Every well-rigged hill farm ought to have three or four parks of as many acres for every hirsel. Besides growing hay, the meadows are available for many purposes. In the early part of the year they are of great use in a late spring, in providing an early bite to the leanest of the flock or for ewes that bring twins in lambing time. Then, after the grass has come on the hills, the parks can be cleared of their stock, and a crop of hay taken. In winter they are again useful in sheltering any sheep that require extra care, or where any special stock can be kept by themselves. In high districts natural grass is scarcely fit to cut every year, and in these cases more enclosures are necessary, when they can be cut and grazed alternate years—a practice which suits very well, as a field or two is always required for grazing tups or other stock. Fencing off the best parts of a hill no doubt tells against the remainder of the grazing, but when the plough is not brought into use the produce in hay from these fields is of far greater value in severe winters to the flock than if they were in pasture. Of course, different means could be used in order to improve the meadows, but where the dung that could be made on the farm was insufficient, lime or artificial manures might be well employed. Also by irrigation many hill enclosures could be cheaply brought into good order for growing hay. It seldom happens that much hay is required every winter, but a store of it should always be on hand, as occasions may arise when more than one year's crop will be wanted.

Besides the usual small enclosures, the practice of running a ring fence around the low-lying ground is now adopted on several hill farms. It gives the shepherd better control over his winter ground, and it seems to us that, in the Highlands, where so much herding at the different seasons is necessary, a fence of this kind would be a great advantage. In the spring it would reserve the best grass for the leanest of the flock, and again in the later part of summer the sheep could be shut out from the low ground, which would compel them to stick to the high ground while the weather was still mild, and saving the winter portion until it was needed. Then in winter the enclosed ground would also be useful in confining any sheep more in need of assistance than others, and might probably be made still better by being again divided. It is only on certain lands where this scheme would suit, as the run of the sheep would have to be considered, but there are some farms where such a fence or fences would be a decided winter help.

Shelter for hill sheep is greatly needed, and although most farmers consider stells of great advantage, it is true, that these are generally in a very dilapidated condition. The ruins of many are to be seen on almost every hill farm, but good serviceable stells are for some reason or other getting scarce. Many of the old ones were no doubt erected at inconvenient places, and found to be of little use; but whether a cycle of good winters, or the expense of keeping them in repair, has contributed most to their neglect we cannot exactly say. Probably it was both; and when we are again visited by some of the old-fashioned kind of storms they may be renewed once more. Natural shelter is the best housing for hill sheep. We cannot alter the conformation of the hills, but it is possible to stay the sweeping blast with woods. It is the only power we have, and much as some proprietors have done in planting, there yet remain boundless hills with not a tree in sight. Anything in the shape of housing or shedding for hill sheep in winter is of course impracticable further than the keb-house in lambing time.

Hill draining is another of the means that may be applied in improving the condition of the flocks. Land that has a considerable portion of draw moss, although of a damp nature, does not require draining, as that valuable early spring plant will only flourish under these conditions. It is where an excess of water is found that harm is done, and while draining may often do a great deal of good, there is a limit beyond which it may do much harm. Both farmers and shepherds should understand the nature of the grasses on their farms far better than they do. They could then tell at once what required draining and what did not, as well as know at sight how to herd the sheep, instead of requiring years of painful experience to make the discovery.

We have now reviewed what constitutes the winter management of hill sheep. The great variety of farms prevents any one system becoming general. In fact, instead of saying what would be the most suitable method for any particular district, we could hardly say the same practice is adapted for two adjoin-ing farms. The points to be considered in one case would be altogether different in another, so besides the experiences given each one must cull from the bulk what he fancies will best suit his purpose. We would at least hope, from what has been stated, that as food and shelter have moderated the dreaded storms of our ancestors to comparative showers, so will a further knowledge of their application reduce our present winter losses to a tiny drop.


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