Blog: Thomas Carrick
31st December 2015
Thomas Carrick (32) is an NSA Next Generation Ambassador 2015 from Alston, Cumbria. Sheep farming is about balancing tradition and innovation, says Thomas, who is a partner in the family business breeding Swaledales and North of England Mules from a 1,800-ewe upland flock. He believes in the diversity of UK breeds and the traditional stratified system but wants to continue making improvements within it by keeping a keen eye on commercial attributes. Thomas embraces all available tools and new technology to improve health and performance and, having completed a degree in human genetics, believes there is huge potential for the science to be used more by the livestock industry. Situated high in the uplands means Thomas is also familiar with the range of environmental problems that sheep are blamed for, and says he wants to play his part in restoring public faith and demonstrating the vitally important role that sheep play in the upland ecosystem.
Scroll down for entries from Thomas about his farming year in 2015
With the darkest winter months behind us, I find myself keen for spring to arrive, along with the change of the daily routine that it brings. Bluefaced Leicesters have lambed well and got me into the spirit for the main event. Being purebred, they are always more work than the Mule lambs, but AI keeps it tight and the job is wrapped up well before the rest of the ewes are due at the end of this month. A nice brief lambing recap.
Swale ewes are fit, and on the back of a very kind autumn have got plenty of lambs in them. None more so than those wintered away on grass. The challenge for these ewes now is to make sure that in these last few weeks pre-lambing their condition doesn't slip, and just as importantly, getting the mineral intake correct. Something which is a lot easier when feeding a full ration at home.
Our first delivery session of the Ambassador programme went down very well, while meeting all the other Ambassadors and hearing about their backgrounds was a highlight. We are all very different (not another Mule breeder in sight) but we have similar aspirations to make our own enterprises more profitable, and to push things forward in sheep breeding. The variety of breeds of sheep kept by the Ambassadors will no doubt give us a focus for debate over drinks, but my personal cause was helped no end by a visit to Will Halford's Worcestershire farm where his large flock of Mules was an excellent display of the viability of commercial sheep production. All in all, lots learned and friends made. I look forward to the next session.
It seems a while since the last update – even though lambing seems to speed time up. It has been a very busy couple of months with a bit of just about everything thrown into the mix. Gimmer hoggs arrived home at the start of March from winter keep, and there was a busy few days spent horn burning, freeze branding, vaccinating etc before turnout onto the fells for the summer. Next time we see them will be for shearing at the end of June.
Preparations for lambing then took over and the rest is a blur. All in all it has been a decent season and lambs are now looking strong, despite challenging conditions. Weather with us has often been plain, which we are used to, but a cold and wet end to March and snow for a week at the end of April was a real pain. It does however, do a lot of good in reminding us why we have the hard and thrifty breeds that we do. Mule lambs never cease to amaze me with their vigour, as I rarely bring lambs inside in bad weather; as long as their bellies are full, they stay out.
I’m keeping an eye on the nematodirus risk, as a spring worm dose is usually not too far off, but as of yet there are no typical signs of worm burden. This next week will see the start of faecal egg counting, which has become routine at this time of year to get the timing of dosing spot on. It has also been useful in determining which of the wormer groups are more effective than others.
Meanwhile, marking out is at the top of the list at the moment, and progress is good with only a few batches left. It’s always a relief when the meadows start to be cleared and you get room to breath.
Away from the farm I am involved with the NSA North Sheep event at Neil and Sally Marston’s farm, Millstone Moor near Cockermouth. After a site visit last week it is obvious that it is going to be a great place to stage the event, and with lots of top quality stock on show it promises to be a great day. Let’s hope the weather plays the game.
I have been assigned the seminar steward job. With a good array of talks form flock health to future of the industry to be discussed, I’m looking forward to some lively debate. See http://northsheep.org.uk/seminars2015/ for a full list of speakers.
After a cold spring in the north of England, late June and July have so far been good for grass growth with grass growing ahead of stock for the first time since last summer. Spring was hard, the cows went out late and we were feeding ewes with twins until well after lambing. Stock hasn’t taken too much harm though, with lambs growing well and ewes shearing well. The only batch of sheep that are perhaps a bit worse off are the fell ewes with single lambs, as the higher ground caught the brunt of the cold, persistent wind that plagued us all spring. As a result the ewes are leaner, having had to work harder, meaning we won’t be in a rush to shear them.
I’m always amazed by how grass only needs a relatively short period of time to fulfil its potential. Our meadows now have decent crops despite being held back for several weeks. With the ground being nice and dry, baling is more straightforward than sometimes and we’re pretty much finished with some nice feed for the stock this winter.
The bonus, if there is any, of a cold spring is that worm counts have been consistently low until the last few weeks. Spring dosing was missed completely with the only dose for lambs being given at shearing when FEC samples eventually showed an increase in worm burden.
Hopefully now we can look forward to a few calmer weeks on the work front before we wean the lambs in August.
August is usually a relatively quiet month, with the major jobs being weaning the lambs and related things. Silage and hay is usually all finished but the catchy weather forced us well into August and thus things were much busier than usual for the time of year.
One thing about a wet August is that there is plenty of grass, and at the moment Mule gimmer lambs seem to be going on well. They will be sold in 2 lots, once in the middle of September at Wigton and once at the end of September at the Alston Moor sale day at Lazonby. The latter is one of the highlights of the year with 20,000 lambs being sold in a day.
The next few weeks will be therefore dominated by getting them ready for sale. Dressing lots of sheep is a long and drawn out process, but very rewarding when you see your years’ work presented for sale. Hopefully being worth a little more than when you started. Presentation of livestock for sale is a contentious issue, and can be something which some would see as a waste of time. However, the reality is that at any sale of sheep the best quality conformation and type of sheep, presented with care and pride, will always sell well. It does pay to present your stock well. We’ll just have to wait and see if the prices can repay our efforts to any extent.
September is flying by with sheep work dominating things. We have had our first sale of mule gimmer lambs at Wigton on Wednesday 16th September, with trade down about £5 on the year, but we were pretty happy considering the current trade climate. It just goes to show that mules as breeding sheep are still in demand. Stronger types were better to sell as per usual but interestingly, lighter coloured lambs were significantly harder to sell.
We have another sale in a couple of weeks at Lazonby, which will be our last of the season and only fat lambs left thereafter. The fat lamb trade has been plain to say the least, but a small increase in the price lately will help. Lambs are heavy but not fattening too quickly, so the challenge is to stop things going over the top and incurring penalties. Usually around this time of year a lot of the fat lambs move onto dairy grass which, with all the nutrition the ground gets, gives the lambs a big jump and they can put weight on at an unbelievable rate. Hopefully we’ll be able to get them away before they get too fat.
Meanwhile the ewes have been sorted for tupping at the end of next month and they’ve had their foot rot vaccination. They are in good nick and with plenty of grass at the moment things are looking ok for the back end of the year. I’m using teaser tups for the first time this year, so there is going to be a bit of experimenting with different lots of ewes to see what approach suits us best, I’ll give a report in due course.
It just seems five minutes since the last blog a month ago but I suppose things have been busy.
The second of our sales of mule gimmer lambs was on Wednesday 30th September at the Alston Moor sale at Lazonby. It turned out to be a great sale with all types of lambs being sought after and we went home happy after our best ever average. All the effort seems to have been worth it for another year, which helps to keep everyone motivated, as no sooner are the sales finished than the year starts again. The Leicester ewes have been AI’d just over a couple of weeks ago and as I write this I can see the chaser tup outside the window working harder than I would have hoped for. Never mind you get a thick skin when you work with Leicesters!
Just last week I had surgery on my foot, so previous to that we were flat out trying to get all of October’s workload done in a week, in anticipation of me being laid up for a while. All the ewes were tailed, dipped and sorted for tupping and they were in great condition after a good run of growy weather. You get a good idea of the condition of the sheep when gathering the fells and I did my fair share of running so I was expecting them to be good.
Fat lambs have started to put flesh on fast, so there was also a need to get though them before they went over the top, and as we thought, we got a lot away to slaughter in the last week. What’s left are not too far away from being heavy enough and are now away on grass so grazing pressure at home has been eased. Dairy grass always gets them to go up a gear or two so we will have to be through them again this week and we anticipate most to be gone in the next few weeks.
Well it’s hard to believe, but 2015 is nearly over and we have completed all of the NSA Next Generation Ambassador group sessions.It has turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my sheep farming career so far. The quality of the businesses we have visited, from the farms to wool processing plants, to on-farm diversification projects (with sheep behind them), just goes to show the strength and depth of our industry. I think all of us have had our eyes opened to the sheer variety of ways that farmers across this country go about making a living from sheep – there isn’t a right or a wrong way to do it, just do what suits you and your land. This variety in sheep breeds and in farming practices surely is our greatest strength. No two farms are the same and there is always
more than one way to do something.
A highlight for myself as a Mule breeder was the visit to Will Halford’s farm in Worcestershire where he runs an impressive commercial flock of Mules – large numbers managed by few staff – the original easy care breed. It was great to see Mules as the backbone of such a well oiled and seemingly simple set up. It just shows that commercial sheep production can be successful, albeit with a lot of hard work and attention to detail, keeping the inputs as low as possible and maximising your number of lambs reared. A great day out which reinforced my belief Mules are still by far the best product for hill sheep farming, and that there is a solid future in them.
The Ambassador programme is a great opportunity for any young sheep farmer and it is a credit to the NSA for putting resources into the next generation, who
will go on to stand up for the industry. It provides an insight into parts of the industry which I certainly wouldn’t have otherwise seen and I would like to think that I have learned a lot from it and
especially from the people that I’ve met along the way. Thanks to all involved. From a farming perspective, the year has been mixed, as ever, with a decent lamb crop and good prices for breeding lambs, but with the fat trade dragging things down. It has been grassy and sheep have never had to look far for their next mouthful, so ewes have gone into the back end fit and lambs have fattened well – if only everything could come together at the same time! Not a bad year all in all, but
here’s to a better one next year. Cheers.