Blog: George Gough
31st December 2015
George Gough (22) is an NSA Next Generation Ambassador 2015 from Knighton, Powys. The sheep farming year for George kicks off with lambing from January through to the end of May, taking him from Devon to the Scottish Highlands. This is followed by several months of shearing and general shepherding work, as well as running 80 ewe lambs of his own and 200 for an employer to prepare and sell in the autumn months. He is also a sheepdog enthusiast and trains collies as a lucrative hobby. George’s ambitions are not small, with sheep scanning and jetting two options being considered for his contract shepherding business, and a dream of one day renting a farm and/or land. He is also looking to buy faecal egg counting equipment, to benefit his own flock and provide on-farm services, as he believes anthelmintic resistance needs more attention.
Scroll down for entries from George about his farming year in 2015.
As I sit down to write this I have just packed my bag and finally got myself organised and ready to set off to Devon on a five-week lambing contract. February was an extremely busy month for me. The first fortnight was spent night lambing, which was thankfully trouble-free; everything went according to plan.
There was also the beginning of our NSA Ambassador training, with three very informative days spent in Worcestershire. It was the first time we all met and can I just say what a great bunch of people that have been chosen - I am extremely proud to be a part of this year’s group. There was a variety of different talks on all parts of the sheep industry and I’m sure we all went home with many new ideas and a large amount of information learnt. The sessions were many and varied; from the advantages of using EBVs when selecting rams to grassland breeding programmes.
Another big commitment that always occurs every February is the YFC pantomime competition. Being Vice Chairman of Knighton YFC and having an extremely young club it was massive delight to finish 7th this year and I would encourage any young person to get involved in the YFC movement.
A very wet Thursday afternoon was spent listening to a splendid line up of speakers at the NSA Cymru/Wales Region AGM. It was a real pleasure to meet last year’s Ambassador from Wales, Rhydian Thomas, and listen to all the activity’s that they undertook as part of the programme and how he is now using all these new skills to improve and build forward in to the future.
As we say good bye to winter and the first signs of spring appear I wish you all the very best of luck for the busy lambing period ahead of us.
Well, what a busy couple of months it has been! I spent March down in South Devon managing a busy lambing shed for Peregrine Aubrey. It's certainly a highlight of my year, as it's such a pleasure to work for someone who is as passionate about the sheep industry as myself.
The flock consists of Lleyns and New Zealand Suffolks, which are all being performance recorded, with ease of lambing, mothering abilities, lamb vigour and birth weights all being recorded within the first 24 hours of life. Ram lambs are selected on their figures and performance rates, retained, and then sold the following year. It's brilliant to see the flock improving, and it’s clear to see this through the rams that he produces what a splendid bunch of sheep they are!
I’m currently just finishing my last lambing contract of the year up in Aberdeenshire with the Gordon family of Strathdon. It has been a hectic lambing period, which has been hampered by bad weather from the start, but the end is now in sight. The flock is all lambed outside with only problem cases being brought into the buildings for further care. Thankfully we have managed to keep weather-related fatalities to a minimum, and as the sun comes out and we start the hefty job of marking and docking all the lambs it’s a great pleasure to see such strong healthy lambs running with the ewes.
One thing which has struck me this last couple of months is the wide variation of weather that we have to deal with in Britain. For a start, I never thought I would be lambing ewes outside in the snow in May. But it's all a part of what makes the agricultural industry so exciting in Britain and keeps us all on our toes. As much as we all like to study the forecast when we walk out the door in the morning we never fully know that the weather has in store for us. Yes, we get struck with some very wet times and some very dry times, but it always balances itself out. As farmers we are renowned for either complaining about market prices or the weather, but it’s our climate that allows us to produce some of the best livestock in the world – that’s what makes our industry so strong, and something we can all take advantage of to make it stronger.
So as the days start getting longer, and the weather starts getting warmer this only means one thing – it's time to get the shearing trailer out for another season!
Tuesday 19th May saw NSA Welsh Sheep take place at Glanmiheli and Drefor farms, jointly hosted by the Powell families. It was a first class location with record numbers going through the gate. I was honoured to be asked to chair a seminar on anthelmintic resistance, which proved to be an interesting discussion on a topic very relevant to today’s sheep industry. Despite the poor weather, there was still plenty of trade stands on show for the public to view. There was a ewe hogg show and sale for the first time, which was a huge success and attracted a large crowd. Shearing started back in late May but sadly, due to sustaining an injury to my back during the first week, I was forced to take a few weeks rest and therefore missed the main few weeks of the season. It has however given me the chance to get some much needed work done around the farm and catch up on some jobs that keep getting put to one side. Thankfully I’ve nearly made a full recovery and so I’m back catching the last few weeks of the season. With are first local ewe sale this coming week, it will be interesting to see what the trade is going to do. With lamb prices still low but cull ewe prices still reaching a premium, I hope to see a high demand of people replenishing the numbers of their flocks. We shall wait and see!
Well, it’s been some time since my last blog entry but blimey, what a busy time it has been! We have once again been hampered with a wet August which has slowed the harvest season down dramatically.
Being self-employed, it’s nice to have a steady flow of work throughout the year but the weather can have a massive impact on your work load and when seasonal jobs all start rolling into one, it can lead to some very busy weeks. But when you’re a young person trying to make a go of it and get onto the farming ladder, building capital becomes one of the major factors between success and failure. I have to see all work as good work! I’m just glad I’m lucky enough to have an understanding family and girlfriend!
One subject that I have to consider, with disappointment, is the lack of support from the government to help young people without a family farm get started in the agricultural industry. There are a small number of us that you could say are first time farmers and without a family farm to inherit, we have the challenge of working up enough capital to compete against other young farmers who are in the fortunate position of being able to borrow their parents’ equipment and capital to put forward in tenancy applications or make a start of their own in the farming industry. The problem is that there are generations of keen, enthusiastic people that have been pushed to one side and not given an opportunity to prove themselves within the industry. Surely these people need encouraging and supporting as they bring fresh ideas and a positive attitude to the table. This will push British farming in a positive direction.
I am lucky there are still quite a large number of council farms within my area, but competition for them is fierce and often results in rental agreements being well over the average. It’s sad that it all comes down to money, whereas enthusiasm, innovation, drive and determination to succeed in farming don’t come into play. A young person without a family farm can often provide an unique perspective and wealth of experience to a new holding, as without a permanent agricultural base they can gain an insight into and gather a knowledge of ‘best practises’ from a wide range of holdings with different methods and agricultural systems upon which they have worked.
I’ve attended a few ewe sales in the last few weeks and have seen nothing but a steady trade all round, and after running the figures I’m quite disappointed with this year’s turnover. As a result I’m now considering the plans for next year. Big decisions need to be made, which I’m sure resonate with many within the sheep industry. In my case, I need to consider whether to buy ewe lambs back in, or to look into other avenues of the sheep industry.
Well, autumn is now upon us and the nights are drawing in at an alarming rate. It sometimes seems to me that you don’t appreciate just how quickly our seasons are coming and going until you have to learn to adapt and change your daily routine around them. I never see winter coming as something to be negative about. As nice as summer is, when you can work late into the evening and enjoy the last warmth off the day as you finish off your jobs, I also love to go outside on a crisp autumn morning when everything seems so fresh after a cold, dry night. I enjoy all four seasons equally, but the autumn brings with it a fresh, exciting feeling on the farm.
There is always the excitement to see if the new tup you bought is working on the ewes, the ground is being worked down again to start a new crop cycle, hedges are being cut, the yard’s full of fodder and the sheds are full of straw. Yes, winter brings some hardships along with it, but so does summer. I always see September as the time to get some much needed condition back on the ewes after a hard summer rearing lambs. I would much rather do that by giving them some good grazing now, rather than having to start feeding early next year pre-lambing. I like the ewes going into winter in a strong condition. Something I have experimented with this year is to run an aerator over the ground in the last couple of weeks, to try maintain some more grass growth late on in the season. It’s something I’ve never done before and have heard mixed reports of their effectiveness, and so hopefully the results will be interesting to see – I’ll keep you posted!
What a year it has been as an NSA Next Generation Ambassador from the NSA Cymru/ Wales Region. I would like to thank NSA for running a very successful programme that I was absolutely chuffed to be a part of. It has really opened my eyes up to the full scale of the industry, and the direction that we should hopefully all be heading in. One of the most useful parts was meeting like-minded people that were in a similar situation, striving to make their own mark on the sheep industry. By listening to these people and their own current situations I have picked up useful hints and tips as to where I need to improve my own skills in my own business.
The programme has really shown me there are vacancies out there for us young entrants to find our way into the industry – we’ve simply got to be ready to jump at these chances and never be afraid to ask or to offend people by asking. A lot can be learnt by simply just asking. It must be said to any hopeful young entrant – don’t surround yourself with negative people; they simply bring you down and, if you have dreams of getting on the farming ladder, these people can be quite destructive when it comes to
reaching your goals. I recently heard a good quote: “In this industry there are drains and radiators.” Some people drain the industry and some radiate energy and
enthusiasm, and these are the people I’m going to surround myself with in the future. I’ve made a good start in this vein by participating as an NSA Next Generation Ambassador.
In the future I plan to keep building my shepherding business, and accumulating more assets and capital to move forward and strive to the dream of getting a farm tenancy and developing a flock of viable, prolific sheep. Having a keen interest in performance recording and grazing systems, these are two topics. I’ve dramatically built my knowledge up on over the last year through the NSA sessions and speakers – and so I look forward to the future when one day I WILL put these
systems into place.