12 Phrases Farmers Use (and expect you to understand)

Some of these terms are included in my book but some are ones that have occurred to me since publishing or that people have asked me about. I hope you enjoy and if you are a non farmer – that these farming terms provide some enlightenment.

1. Pet Lambs

This doesn’t mean that the lambs will be pets forever. Some female sheep may remain so but unless one is a good enough ram for breeding, all the lambs will still be sent to the factory. These lambs have to be bottle fed hence the term ‘pet lambs’. Our two pet lambs see me as their momma and will clamour all over me to get to the milk. Lambs become pets either because their mother died or hasn’t produced milk. If they are one of triplets or quads, the ewe probably won’t have enough milk for all of them. ?It can sometimes happen that a newborn triplet is fostered onto a new mum with a single lamb but that can be tricky to achieve. We now have ‘lamlac’ a specially derived formula for lambs but years ago. they would have been fed on cows milk and found it hard to digest it. It was hard to keep them alive at times.

American gothic a la Marry a Farmer2. Testing Cattle

The Test is of utmost importance and most farmers will be somewhat anxious on the day of ‘The Test’. It doesn’t refer to testing their speed or their size. It is about testing to see if they have tuberculosis (and if breeding animals have brucellosis). If any animals have it, they will have to be put down and the farmer can’t sell any animals until he has two clear tests in a row. The cattle are tested on an annual basis (every two years now for brucellosis).

3. Locked Up

If you hear a farmer saying another farmer has been ‘locked up’, it doesn’t mean he has received a prison sentence! It means his herd has been locked up because of a TB reaction and the farmer is unable to sell any animals (apart from to the factory) until they have two clear tests in a row. For farmers who sell animals as milch heifers or for breeding, it can be really serious – hence the worried faces at that time of year.

4. Drawing cattle

This does not mean that you and the farmer can head off with your easels and watercolours to spend an afternoon painting images of the picturesque cattle against green grass and a summer’s blue sky. You need to get those Victorian images out of your mind I’m afraid. Drawing cattle refers to loading cattle in a trailer to bring them to another part of the farm that can only be reached by road. Many farms in Ireland are fragmented hence drawing cattle is a relatively frequent occurrence. ‘I’ve to draw cattle home today‘.

5. Going to do a spot of fencing

This doesn’t mean that your farmer is going to play the part of Mr. Darcy as he tries to rid his mind of Elizabeth Bennett. It’s about heading off with a bunch of wooden stakes, wire, hammer and staples to ensure that when cattle or sheep are put into a field, that they stay there! Heading off to do spot of fencing can also mean that he/she needs some quiet time – just themselves, the grass, the birds, the hammer, wire and nails- the equivalent of a man’s shed for retired men and gardeners!

6. Only one spin

This does not mean going for a drive in the car or for a cycle. It means the ewe has only got milk in one half of her udder (a ewe has two teats). Saying a cow is a 3-spinner means that she had mastitis and one quarter / teat is dry and does not provide milk. ‘That ewe has only got one spin’.

Counting cattle7. A Freemartin Heifer

A freemartin heifer isn’t a member of a strange cult. A heifer is a female calf and is referred to as a heifer until she has her second calf. A freemartin heifer is a twin to a bull calf and due to the presence of testosterone in the womb, is highly likely to be infertile. We had one last year who was seen to be on heat, when the AI man inspected her, it was discovered she had an ovary so she was ovulating but had a sealed vagina so could not be impregnated.

8. Diet Feeder

I always think of this as being such an oxymoron as we tend to use ‘diet’ as suggesting eating less to attain weight loss and yet here’s an expression about feeding more. A diet feeder is a machine that mixes up the various foodstuffs that are put into it so that the mixed food can then be fed to the cattle. Think of mixing up chopped meat, potato and veg for a toddler!

9. A Yoke

Traditionally a yoke was the crossbar that connected two oxen that pulled a wagon or a plough. It still is I guess but oxen are few and far between now. Yokes tend to be very popular on farms – Irish ones anyway. A yoke can be anything that the farmer cannot think of the name of but he expects you to interpret it when he points in a general direction and says ‘pass me that yoke, would you?

10. Elder

‘Would you look on the elder on that cow’. It’s not referring to a lump or to an older cow – it’s another term for the cow’s udder. The conformation, size, shape and tautness of a cow’s udder are of huge importance as are the positioning of her four teats. If he is buying or selling cows, you’ll hear a lot about cows and their elders.’Would you look at th’ elder on tha’ un!

11. Yaneing

This is a colloquial term but seems to be used everywhere. Non-sheep farmers may simply say ‘lambing’ but most sheep farmers would call it ‘Yaaaneing’. It means when the female sheep (ewes) are about to give birth or are giving birth.

12. Soft Rain

Well, there isn’t much of it at the moment – it is horrible out there with floods in so many places. Although Ireland is reputed to be always raining, the soft rain that falls is enough to wet the ground and not severe enough to saturate fields or cause it to run in rivulets. Quite exhilarating if there is a wind too. ‘It’s a grand soft day.’

Are there any farming terms that you have heard and don’t understand? Put them in a comment and I’ll let you know if I can.

4 thoughts on “12 Phrases Farmers Use (and expect you to understand)

  • Donna OShaughnessy

    “Dry up” You might think that meant taking an animal and hanging it out on the clothes line after it got wet in a storm but no…it is the process of taking a pregnant dairy cow of the milking rotation, a couple months before she calves, in order to build her strength and condition. LOVE this post Lorna. As always witty and fun

    • Lorna

      I remember referring to drying the cows off when tweeting one day and so many asked me what it meant – yep, another brill example Donna 🙂



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