|Our Farming Year|
This page provides an insight into managing a flock of sheep over the course of a year.
January / Feb – The pregnant ewes are yarded to prevent winter damage to the grass fields and to give them more shelter during the winter months in the later stages of pregnancy. They are fed an increasing diet of concentrated food and hay as they approach lambing time. The rams (male sheep) and the previous year's ewe lambs that will not lamb are kept on the further away field & fed supplementary hay & feed blocks.
Other work includes routine maintenance of the tractors & machinery, mending fences and planting hedges & trees.
March / April – Lambing time. This is an exhausting time for us as the ewes have to be checked every 2 hours, night & day. Occasionally we may have to help correct bad birth presentations, prolapses and other problems. After birth the lambs are penned up with their mothers for 24-48hrs until they are strong enough to go into the main pen. Their navels are sprayed with antiseptic iodine to prevent infection and weak lambs are given supplementary colustrum & milk. There are many stock jobs to do at this time so it is a busy, tiring but rewarding time. Guests are welcome to see the lambs and help with bottle feeding where necessary, although they must wash their hands after handling livestock.
During this time we are also preparing the grass for the year ahead. The grass will be chain harrowed, rolled & fertilised and any bare patches from the winter re-seeded.
April – The ewes and lambs are turned out onto grass. They are still checked several times a day & the bottle fed ones need increasing amounts of milk. As the grass growth increases, the field will gradually be closed up for haymaking. We do not dip the sheep any more, but apply more environmentally friendly anti-fly sprays to the ewes to prevent fly strike (a dangerous condition where the fleeces are attacked by blowflies). The sheep are also footbathed & treated to prevent footrot which can cause lameness, and vaccinated against bluetongue. A watch is kept for fox and especially dog attacks, an increasing problem over recent years as more people move from the towns to the countryside and do not realise what damage their pet dogs can cause if let off the lead around sheep.
May / June – When the weather permits, haymaking starts. The grass is cut, tedded and after 1-2 weeks when dry enough, it is baled & stacked in the barn for feeding the sheep during the winter months. The sheep are usually sheared in mid June so it is a busy time when the shearers arrive to help with shearing. The grass aftermaths are fertilised to provide late summer grazing, maybe a second cut of hay & provide fields of good grass for autumn flushing and tupping of the ewes (see below).
July / August – The local harvest is underway and the straw (what is left after wheat grain is threshed by combine harvesters) is baled, carted & stacked in the barn to provide winter bedding for the ewes & lambs. The lambs are weaned off milk and the ewes sorted and grazed accordingly: thin ewes are put on good grass; fat ewes on tighter grass to get them in good condition for tupping. Routine stock jobs such as foot bathing, drenching & anti-fly treatments keep the ewes and lambs healthy and the first draws of lambs for market are made. We produce mainly breeding ewes for sale to other flocks and the remainder not suitable for breeding will be sold at market or direct. The rams are foot-trimmed & prepared for the breeding season.
September – The flock is made up for the new breeding year. Last years shearling ewes (gimmers) will be added as replacements for older ewes & ones that can no longer breed. The ewes are give a health “overhaul” including foot-trimming, drenching and vitamin & mineral supplements before being put on good grass to “flush” them before tupping. Flushing on good grass causes the ewes to produce more eggs when they ovulate, thus producing more twins & triplets at lambing time.
October –The rams are introduced to the ewes for mating, a process known as “tupping”. The rams are fitted with a raddle harness containing a coloured crayon which shows when they have serviced the ewes. The colour of the crayon is changed every two weeks to show when the ewes have been tupped so that an approximate date for lambing can be calculated. Autumn & winter problems include dog attacks or scares which can cause pregnant ewes to abort.
November / December – The ewes are kept on grass as long as possible before being yarded for the winter. Supplementary hay & molasses blocks are fed as the grass growth slows. The ewes are condition scored to keep them in optimum condition during pregnancy.
Above: Winter feeding is important as the sheep need extra care whilst pregnant. The recent snowy spells can be particularly difficult.
Both above: Lambs and their mothers in the lambing pen. Once the youngest lambs are strong enough they will all be moved into the fields. Left: The lambs are given numbers to help us identify which lambs belong to which mothers, and ensure none are being shunned by their mothers. The colour of the number denotes whether the lamb is a single, twin, triplet or sometimes part of quads, quins or even a sextuplet.
Above: A ewe and her lambs in the field. Below: Freshly cut grass for haymaking in the fields.
Above: Tedding the grass. Below: Stacked hay bales drying out. Left: Shearing in the height of summer.
Above middle: Carting hay and straw in from the fields. Above: Completing a year's haystack - the main winter food supply for sheep is hay and concentrate. Left: Typical sheep farmer's market. Below: Foot-trimming is a routine task to prevent any foot problems and check for any sort of infection which can make it hard for sheep to walk.
Above middle: A ram and ewe during tupping. Above: A ram with raddle and orange crayon about to have it changed for another colour. Left: The ewes with a winter hayfeeder in the lambing pen.