The month of May began with warm sunshine and the arrival of a Poll Dorset Ram named Zachariah. We collected him from a farm on the Salisbury plain, not far from Stonehenge. The sweeping landscape is so different from West Dorset, with huge open fields. Much is owned by the military so you might see the occasional tank regiment crossing!
We took Zach directly to the Poll Dorset ewes and he got to work straight away. The ewes have all settled in well on Waddon Hill at Stoke Knapp Farm, quiet and very used to us walking through the flock for a twice daily check. We have electric fencing there, put up with a gadget that sits on the back of the ranger, making set up and dismantling reasonably simple. The three strands don’t get tangled but someone still has to walk behind, sticking in/pulling out the stakes. I do the driving.
The ewes will begin lambing in early October. Poll Dorsets can get in-lamb out of season. Most sheep breeds are ready for the tup in the Autumn so lambs are born in the Spring with the arrival of warm weather and new grass. But Poll Dorsets are fertile for breeding all year. Our ewes will lamb in late September through October. We will have plenty of grass at Stoke Knapp and can supplement with haylage. The lambs will be ready for market at four to five months for a premium price. Archie is focused on earning a living at all this farming.
The Portland lambs are growing and eating at the grass now while still running to mum for a drink. We have to be so vigilant at this time of the year, with the threat of fly strike. I’ve mentioned this before, horrid flies lay eggs on the sheep, the eggs hatch and maggots wriggle into the flesh. We sprayed the lambs with a preventative solution.
The HebrieanXPortland lambs are as frisky as ever. The are amazing escape artists, squeezing through any gap available. A quick clap of the hands and they all race back. They are odd looking lambs, some all black or all cream. Others have black legs and black masks, like a raccoon. We won't breed from the ewes, all will have a lovely life then be sold as meat.
The Polls and eighteen Portland shearlings at Stoke Knapp were shorn over the bank holiday weekend. What a day! We first set up pens in the enclosed yard behind the farmhouse. Josh, our shearing man, set up his kit and then it was time to bring the sheep in. The Portlands were two fields away, but some bucket shaking and calling by yours truly and they headed in the right direction into the yard. They were shorn, fleeces sorted and then walked back.
It was a very warm afternoon with a cloudless blue sky. Josh had his sheep dog with him, so he, Archie and Scott, a friend who can do just about any task on a farm, headed up onto Waddon hill to gather the Polls and walk them down. I was rather worried there would be sheep scattered everywhere, but in a short few minutes the sheep appeared at an opening in the hedgerow. Down they came, all quite unflustered. With just a little help from the dog they were manoeuvred across and down into the yard.
Then the really hard work began. Poll Dorsets are big strong sheep with a soft and fine but heavy fleece. It was a long afternoon especially for poor Josh. My job was sorting the fleeces. After a sheep is shorn the fleece is gathered up and spread out across a board. I pull off all the dirty bits, mostly around the edges, and pull off as much debris as I can - bits of tangled weed, bugs, etc. The fleece is folded in on itself, rolled up and placed in a big bag provided by the Wool Board. I kept back a couple of fleeces to possibly sell or enter in the fleece competition at Shows.
It was quite wonderful to see the yard full of livestock. Mr Tolley used to keep his cattle in the area all winter, right outside his back door. Eventually we will create a new yard well behind the house and old stone sheds, a bit tidier and less smelly for anyone living in the farmhouse!
Later in May two Highland calves made their appearance. Both were born in early hours of the morning. We have learned that delaying the tagging/castrating procedures is asking for trouble. We give them no more than 30 hours before the are grabbed, manhandled into the Ranger and transported into the holding area with gates firmly closed behind. We try to grab the calves when they are sleeping, with mother some distance away. Safer for all. And it is not so brutal as it may sound, they are already so strong at such a young age.
We also had to call the vet in for the castration for one of the HebrideanXPortland ram lambs. Archie usually does the castrating of the sheep but this one hadn't quite worked.
Meanwhile Archie is very busy with other jobs around the two farms. Fields needed harrowing and rolling. Now the grass is growing thick and fast. and we will be cutting and baling soon. We have plenty of good grass to sell on to a local dairy farmer, too. He will cut it as silage. We don’t fertilise our fields but spraying for docks and nettles is a must. There are fences to repair, trees which grew out of control at Stoke Knapp are coming down, then cut into big logs for later splitting.
And checking stock is all important at this time of year, making sure lambs are growing well. We spotted a ewe with a prolapse, very rare in Portlands. So we caught her and her lamb, not so easy with lambs scrambling all around the pen in which we caught them. Very relieved when we found the lamb tagged #99! I won’t breed from the ewe again, but sorted her with a prolapse spoon held with a harness. She can continue to feed her lamb until he is weaned. Always something new and interesting when it comes to sheep.
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.