Summer is a distant memory. After a busy autumn with tupping and settling the cattle in their winter pastures, we are ready for the cold weather routine. My four lovely young rams have all been hired out and are returning triumphant.
In late October we began preparing the ewes for the tup - the ram is put to work. He joins the ewes to get them in-lamb. This is the natural cycle which has gone on since sheep became domesticated. The ewes are ready for the rams in autumn so they lamb in spring when the grass is beginning to grow again. Today farmers can mess about with nature so ewes lamb earlier in the year. Lambs born in January are ready for the Easter market, where they fetch a premium price. But I stick with tradition and let nature take its course.
We collected my forty one ewes from two adjoining fields, got them all together and walked them down the lane to the holding area. They all happily follow when I shake the bucket full of sheep nuts. Archie and I then sent them down the sheep race, checking their tag number, marking them with a colour and separating them into two groups for the two rams. Portland sheep are a rare breed and although their population is rising, there is still a limited gene pool. We don’t want to breed them too closely. Fortunately there is software available to all Portland breeders which helps us determine if any ram is too closely related to a ewe. Very clever.
We gave each sheep a quick health check, trimmed their feet and then walked each group back to their autumn pastures. Finally we collected the two rams. In the past I have strapped a ‘raddle’ with a coloured crayon. This wraps around the chest of the ram and when he mounts the ewe it leaves a mark. But I have had a bit of trouble with the raddle loosening or chaffing. So this year we tried a different method, mixing a special powder with vegetable oil. This gets 'painted' all over the ram's chest and does leave a much bigger clearer mark. It needs renewing every few days but my rams are quite easy to catch. I approach with a bucket of nuts, they stick their head in, I grab a horn and yell for Archie (hiding behind a hedge) to come quickly before the ram pulls away. Definitely a two man job. More ‘paint’ applied and off they go. What a wonderful sight to see, a field of sheep with big colourful bums.
The Highland cattle are settled in their winter ground and being fed haylage already. We finally have bought a newer tractor which makes the task quicker and probably safer. (Our old 1987 John Deere is now a collectors item)! The calves have their own ‘creep’ feeder in the field, where they can get cattle nuts, too. In prior years we had been housing them to give them a good first winter. But this autumn they are still with their mums and getting that little bit extra, too. They come running when Archie arrives with the bucket of ‘cake’, ready to pour into their feeder. Merry Christmas!
Jo Stover has daily adventures on her small farm, together with her Highland cattle and Portland sheep, bees, a few hens, dogs, and some two-legged family and friends.