The last lamb was finally born on the 16th of May and here it is, over a month later already. The calves began arriving in early June. Well, two calves appeared within a day of each other, one coloured the traditional red and the other white, both bull calves. The third was stillborn, very sad and that has only happened once before about 10 years ago. The next was born in the middle of June, a lovely lively heifer calf, who was up and running with the other two within a day of her arrival. Still waiting for the fourth and final.
Tagging is always a challenge and I never manage to get any photos as it is all hands on, mum angry, calf mewing. We drive the ranger into the field, grab the calf, pull it quickly onboard, race into the holding area, shut the gate, with 5 bewildered and unhappy cows charging after us!
This year Archie got his two buddies to help, as we decided to ring castrate at the same time as tagging. In the past I have called in the vet when the bull calves are a few months old. All went well and the bull calves didn’t appear bothered at all. I just hope it worked.
We brought four sheep to the Sherborne Show at the end of May, two rams and two shearling ewes. Douglas the Labrador puppy came along, too. He is just six months old and quite large, an enthusiastic boy with a lovely temperament. (and in need of more training)!
We all had a good day. Both rams got a first in their classes, 'shearling' and 'older ram'. The shearing ewes were awarded a second and fourth. I now need to get on with halter training some lambs very soon.
The weather has been up and down, as usual. We had a few unusually cold days and recently a heat wave. The sheep were shorn just before the cold weather so had a few chilly days without their fleeces. Shearing day is always pretty exhausting, and I don’t even do the toughest job! We collect all the sheep, leaving the lambs behind. They are all brought down to the sheds, keeping the rams separate from the rest. After each sheep is shorn I scoop up the fleece, lay it out on a board, pick off the dirtiest bits and roll it up. By that time the next fleece is ready and so it goes.
All that lanolin does make for very soft hands at the end of the day. When the shearer finishes his job the sheep are loaded up and returned back to their fields. The ewes run off the trailer, the noise begins as mothers and babies greet each other. But there is always much confusion as the lambs cannot quite figure out who these funny ladies are, with no fleece!
The British Wool Board buys all the fleeces produced by sheep farmers. Wool is collected at designated centres, the wool is cleaned and then sold to buyers from all over the world. Their value has increased slightly in the last few years but no farmer can make a living from selling fleeces. It barely covers the cost of the shearing.
I am fortunate that Portland fleeces are popular with hand spinners. So I am able to sell the best fleeces for £5 or more. I will also enter my best fleece in agricultural show competitions. Last year I received a first at the Three Counties Show. My problem is choosing good fleeces!
There is always so much to learn when dealing with livestock. The internet is a good source when questions arise, but the best source is other sheep farmers. And thank goodness so many are ready to help and advise. So I have had some guidance from two fellow Portland breeders who happen to know so much about fleeces. Norma is also a hand spinner and will sell some of my fleeces at Wool festivals.
I mentioned several months ago that we received planning permission to convert a stone cattle shed into two holiday cottages. We are nearing completion, and lately this has occupied so much of my time. We were very fortunate to find a super team of builders, and that is not an exaggeration. The two cottages are looking very smart and I hope to have holiday guests in early July. This provides a new income stream for the farm. And I am now selling some of my beef and hogget/mutton to a couple of very nice restaurants in the area and hoping to expand on that.
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.