Blog: Clarke Hibberd
31st December 2015
Clarke Hibberd (24) is an NSA Next Generation Ambassador 2015 from Inverurie, Aberdeenshire. Building up a run of 4,000 ewes in his first year as a shearer shows the type of resolve Clarke has to carve a niche for himself in the sheep sector. He started as a shepherd for a 600-ewe flock, but went self employed this year, retaining management of the original flock and adding additional contract shepherding and shearing work. Clarke aims to have a farm tenancy or a share-farming agreement in the future, while also keeping his contracting work. The shearing trailer that Clarke bought last year has three stands, so he also plans to keep building his round into a business capable of supporting two other shearers in addition to him.
Scroll down for entries from Clarke about his farming year in 2015.
With winter grazing coming to an end the ewes are back home onto strip grazing turnips. The 400 ewes scanned well a couple of weeks ago at 219% with only one barren. The 200 hoggs then went on to scan at 137% with only eight barren. We felt this was a great result with the tups only having ran with the ewes for two cycles, helping to keep lambing tight. Last year's strict selection of ewes taken forward for breeding seems to be paying off. Having had a mild winter and the ewes all in good order it has been a great start to the year.
Through word of mouth and a growing reputation, my contracting work is stronger than ever. With lambing just around the corner there is a high demand for pre-lambing vaccinations and general health care duties. Working with a variety of pedigree and commercial sheep breeders, it helps to keep workload steady due to desired lambing dates varying throughout the different breeds. With show season on the horizon, it has been refreshing to be able to get back on the shearing stand, freeing sheep of their winter coats in preparation for the early shows. This has left me eager and excited for the shearing season ahead.
The first delivery session with the Ambassador group, held over three days, was an invaluable learning experience and great opportunity to meet other young enthusiasts like myself from all over the country. My most memorable experience was the visit to Halford Farm where the business consisted of a flock of 3,400 breeding sheep, all of which are lambed indoors. The size and scale of this business demonstrated to me the potential success that can be achieved through specific planning and organisation. Will Halford's evident efficiency and success is an example of a commercial sheep farm any young enthusiast would aspire to.
With the ewes and lambs settled in their summer pastures, looking back the lambing was a great success. After a recent head count we are delighted to have ended up with a 192% lambing in the ewes and 120% lambing in the hoggs. On the whole, the weather throughout lambing the 600 sheep outdoors was brilliant with mainly dry, mild weather – however, a freak two days of snow at the end of April caused some unexpected losses.
Before moving the sheep onto their summer pastures was the task of preparing the lambs for the summer ahead. This included castration and tailing, vaccinations again clostridial diseases, worming and tagging. With great vigour in all the lambs it’s a rewarding sight to see.
Ongoing soil and grassland management has been high up in our priorities this spring, with soil sampling and GPS mapping of the fields resulting in a great early yield of grass. Lime, nitrogen, phosphate and potash have been added where required to bring the soil to its desired pH and nutrient content.
Having sheared some ewe and tup hoggs, it’s been a good warm-up for the shearing season ahead, and a good chance to practice for competing in the local summer shows and competitions.
At the height of the so called ‘summer’, shearing is my main focus. Having clipped our own ewes at the start of June, this meant that I was able to progress with contract shearing picking up many large contracts due to several local shearers retiring. With myself and two friends working for me, it has meant that we have been able to shear large numbers of sheep in a day. Having sheared 8,500 sheep so far, my initial aim being 10,000, we are well on our way to this, with some hill sheep still to come. With the downturn of fat lamb prices, it comes as a relief to have put the lambing back two weeks later this year, with the hope that the price will rise in time for our first pick of fat lambs. As a prevention against blowfly strike, we plunged dipped all of our ewes and lambs for the first time, after recommendation that this can be a better prevention than pour-on products.
A couple of days away from the farm to go to the Royal Highland show proved a great chance to catch up with friends and enjoy the outstanding show of livestock. It was also a positive sight to see such large crowds of people at the NSA stand.
I’ve returned home from the third NSA Next Generation session feeling inspired and full of good intensions to put my time to the best possible use. having had an interesting day on time management. Day two was kindly hosted by the British Wool Marketing Board. We were shown what happens to the wool bags once they leave the farm, and there is a great deal of work which goes into getting the end product, from going to auction right through to the scouring plant.
Back home this years’ weather has been a shearer's worse nightmare, with the rain never being far away. Eventually I shore the last sheep in late August but I was unfortunately 198 sheep short of my 10,000 aim for the run!
I have been doing some experimenting with the smaller lambs this year, by bare shearing them to see if the daily liveweight gain would improve- Fingers crossed that it's a success. I’ve recently secured an extra 250 acres of grass on an annual basis from a local estate, which has meant more work for me as ewe numbers have increased from 600 to 800, with an aim of 1,000 in the future. The grass is in need of a lot of attention and minerals, so also presents a challenge for me in the coming year.
The fourth NSA Next Generation session involved along drive for myself to Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales for a very interesting day at the St. Merryn meats, the Two Sisters plant. Starting with a live-dead day, we started in the lairage grading lambs and following them through to the chill. Finding out what the procurement team are looking for has helped at home while picking out fat lambs. With a two week waiting list for getting lambs killed here, it is crucial to pick them at the right stage to try and meet the required spec.
I’ve recently been successful in securing a place on a new cultivating leadership course organised through Young Farmers, by kind sponsorship from some large agricultural companies. I took part in the first session last week along with another nine eager and enthusiastic young farmers, ranging from new entrants to established farmers. Taking part in all these great programmes, meeting and speaking to a lot of inspiring people and all these days away from work will hopefully help me on my way to my dream of farming in my own right of some description in the future!
The 2015 NSA Next Generation Ambassador programme has come to an end – and what a worthwhile experience it has been. The programme
has helped me a great deal from building my knowledge in the sheep sector and improving my confidence. Since becoming an Ambassador there have been some changes in my business that are a direct result of this experience. This is particularly true of grassland management being improved after seeing a lot of different options out there. The flock I look after has also been increased by 200-head, although taking on more land for these is another challenge. My contracting side of things is getting more and more busy as time goes on and I had even more shearing this summer.
Being an NSA Next Generation Ambassador is going to be extremely valuable to me in the long-term future, particularly with my aim to get established in my own right one
way or another. I also hope my Ambassador role will continue with me helping anyone in a similar situation as myself to get a start in the sheep industry. Having a great passion for the industry, I would highly recommend getting involved in something like this programme and I would be happy to help anyone interested – feel free to contact
me, as I am happy to share the great experience I have had.