One of my farming friends occasionally attends something called ‘Ten by Nine’, which involves nine people telling their favourite ten-minute stories.

It struck me that a similar event for farmers might yield hundreds of absolute ripping yarns – during our working lives most of us have been party to fantastic one-liners, listened to brilliantly funny outbursts and witnessed occasionally poignant moments, all worthy of retelling.

Like everyone else, I have plenty of colourful tales and jokes to recount, but one from a long time ago is perhaps most worthy of repeating.

I wasn’t long out of agricultural college and had been left to hold the fort while the senior clan members were away at a wedding. I was in the house having a cup of tea, when the phone rang (there were no mobiles in those days).

An authoritative voice at the other end of the line enquired if this was the Robinson residence, and I agreed that indeed it was.

He then announced that I should contact my insurance company because he had a dead sheep in his field. Furthermore, he asked me to confirm that someone had been spraying grassland weeds over the hedge from his land the previous day.

Again, I admitted to this heinous crime. Being nineteen, and still green behind the ears, I was too overawed to tell him to wise up and go and get stuffed. Instead, I meekly said goodbye and put the phone down.


Despite my relative innocence, I knew enough to know that any sort of spray drift potential poisoning was likely to be cumulative, prolonged, and not any sort of instant death. And anyway, a whiff of MCPA across a thorn hedge wasn’t exactly known as a deadly substance, was it?

The more I thought about it, the more concerned I became that the whole business stank to high heaven, and something wasn’t right. So, I phoned him back, and with my heart thumping like a drum, asked him if I could collect the dead animal and take it to the veterinary lab at Stormont for examination. He readily agreed to this.


Arriving in his yard, I could see the affected animal lying in the middle of a hill, and sure enough, she looked very dead to me. I walked up the field to examine her, without expecting anything obvious to reveal itself and suddenly realised that it wasn’t such a bad day after all. Because lying half out of her, also completely dead, was a big single lamb!

This made the short journey towards his dwelling house about thirty times easier for me, and when I met him at the door, I enquired (without a trace of sarcasm) if he knew his ewe had been lambing.

To this day I wish I had a photograph of his facial expression because he knew he had been made out to be a fool. However, being ever aware, he immediately turned to his son and berated him for not properly checking his livestock. And in fairness, he did offer an apology.

To this day, I still wonder how different my reaction would have been if the same thing occurred decades later? Part of me wonders if I might be more prepared to ‘twist the knife’ a bit and watch him squirm. What he did was ridiculous in the extreme and I could easily have accused him of being a halfwit.

Then again, perhaps a bit of gentle justice was a far more subtle way of winning, without creating any additional unpleasantness.