Friday, September 16, 2011

Sheeps!

It was bound to happen, sooner or later. This is a livestock farm, after all, and you can't just have one kind of livestock. No, you need to have lots.


The Horse Doctor was up on her hols a couple of weeks ago, and we both went down to Galloway to look at some sheep. Not just any old sheep, mind you. These were Romney ewe lambs, born this April. We selected fifty nice looking ones* and bought them there and then. I would have liked to have bought more, but the price of sheep is at an all-time high right now - typical when I want to buy some. By the time I have any to sell, the market will no doubt have corrected itself, but that's life.


sheeps on the run - click to embiggen

It took a while for them to pack their bags and say their goodbyes, but earlier this week I had a call telling me the sheep had left their old home and were on their way. They had cleverly hitched a ride on the top deck of an articulated lorry bringing cattle from Ayr mart up to Fife, thus saving me considerably on the cost of transport. The downside of this was that they didn't actually arrive until near enough ten at night. It was also howling a gale, which meant that the poor wee things really didn't want to come out of their nice, warm and smelly lorry into dark, windy emptiness. We got them out eventually, the lorry driver and me, but I wasn't able to count them, or indeed see much of them as they disappeared into the night. I had checked the gate at the other end of the field earlier, but it's always a worry that someone might have gone through and helpfully left it open.


Come the next morning though, they were all there. But no, hang on, I can count sheep without falling asleep, and there were 52, not 50. Not a mistake, as it turns out. Marcus Maxwell, who breeds these hardy sheep down in Dumfries and Galloway, had added a couple to the flock for luck, nice fellow that he is. These are this year's crop of lambs, who won't get put to the tup until late next year, producing their own lambs in the spring of 2013.


should be enough grass for now




Romney sheep, for those who care about these things, originated in the Romney marshes in Kent. They were taken out to New Zealand and adapted well there, breeders selecting for good mothering skills and generally speaking a sheep that just gets on with things, without any intervention from the farmer. The modern system using them is known as Easycare over here, although some people get confused and think that's a breed of sheep (or cattle). In short, they will live outdoors all year round, lamb in the big field closest to the farm buildings, and hopefully require minimal attention. The New Zealand attitude is succinctly summed up by the farmer who, when asked what he does about lambing said: 'As soon as I hear the first lamb, I go on holiday.' I certainly will be happy if I never have to pull another lamb in my life. And if you don't know what 'pull a lamb' means, it's got nothing to do with chatting them up in the pub. More to do with having small hands and a robust constitution.


something to train the sheepdog


Romney wool is worth a good bit more than the bog-standard stuff most farmers produce, which ties in well with the Horse Doctor's fibre production plans. She already wants to have Alpacas here, and is looking at a flock of Bowmont sheep and a mini-mill to produce yarn for the knitting and craft markets. Well, you've got to have a ten year plan... Me I'm just happy to be kept in socks and jumpers.


With a bit of luck, I should be able to buy a few more ewe lambs next year, as well as a tup or two. The idea is to get a good Romney ram** and then follow him up with a Suffolk as a sweeper. Suffolks have black heads, and their lambs always have black heads whatever colour the ewe, so it will be easy enough to establish who's the daddy of whom. Most of the Romney ewe lambs will be kept (obviously requiring a second, unrelated Romney ram when it comes their turn to breed - no nasty incest on my farm!), building up to a flock of around 250-300 in the end. At which point I may even begin to consider myself a proper farmer.


I still need to get a tractor though.


settled now






* and no, I'm not going to tell you what makes for an attractive sheep. That way sniggering and smuttiness lie.
** in farming tup and ram are interchangeable. Much of the terminology is, in what I think is a deliberate attempt to confuse.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Gabriele C. said...

Cattle, sheep, alpacas, that's going to be quite some farm. Any chance to get a horse or two as well, or some ponies? :)

BTW, how's Dogmael reacting to the sheep?

September 17, 2011 12:04 am  
Blogger JamesO said...

With fascination and a little fear. They're a lot bigger than he is right now.

There have been horses here in the past. My mother was a keen carriage driver and the local hunt meets here once a year. I'm not so sure, having never really got the riding bug myself. Horses strike me as being expensive and time consuming to maintain.

That said, a Highland pony, for rounding up the cattle on the hill, would be cool.

September 17, 2011 8:05 am  

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