Blog: Alex Olphert
1st March 2016
Alex Olphert (23) is an NSA Next Generation Ambassador from Petersfield, Hampshire. Despite being busy as a partner in the family farm at Petersfield and running 1,750 ewes, Alex also helps his neighbours with contacting, harvest work and a shearing run of 10,000-head. The home farm is just 80 acres, so a lot of rented land, winter keep and conservation grazing means sheep and electric fences need to be moved most days. The ewes are Texel cross Beulah Aberdales, which Alex has found to be very prolific, with most lambs finished off roots in the run-up to Christmas and a few sold as stores.
Alex is already taking on more of the business responsibility and hopes to help his father towards retirement in the next five years. He plans for the flock to have increased by another 250-head in that time and be fully EID recorded in a bid to collect data to drive production. Alongside this Alex plans to increase his shepherding work, not decrease it. He says: “It helps to see other systems and methods, helping to grow my skills and improve other flocks locally. If I can ever find a window, I would love to get to New Zealand for a couple of months too – to see what everyone is talking about!”
Top fact: Alex was sponsored by NSA South East Region to attend the Sheep Breeders Round Table in November, which he describes as an ‘incredibly interesting and worthwhile weekend’.
Scroll down for entries from Alex about his farming year in 2016.
After two days away at the first NSA Ambassador session, it is now steam ahead towards lambing. It was a very interesting and information packed two days, full of brilliant presentations and speakers and gave me a lot of things to think about. It was really good to meet the rest of the Ambassador group for this year and I’m looking forward to getting to know them as the year progresses.
Back on the farm at home has been busy, finishing off crutching for a local farmer and starting on crutching and vaccinating the home flock. It's nice at this point to be able to handle the ewes and see what condition they're in and to see a few udders growing.
The ewes expecting triplets are doing well, being fed maize silage and haylage in a sacrifice feild, very easy but when there's 450 in one field they do need checking two or three times a day. One or two have been known to get stuck on their backs, as well as the odd prolapse so it will be good when they finally come in! Meanwhile, the singles are on haylage with nuts being introduced as they get closer to lambing to try and make sure they have enough milk to get as many of the spare triplet lambs fostered across. The twins are far simpler, slowly returning closer to the farm and grazing cover crops of oats. I’m looking forward to when they're home though, as it’ll be much easier to check and manage them. It's always nice to see how the ewes look at this point but it's scary how they can change so quickly. We still have 500 lambs about from last season, but plan to have 100 gone this week and another 150 away by next week. Turnips and forage rape have lasted reasonably well though, but hopefully they will all be gone by lambing.
As the weather looks to be drying up and grass grow, thoughts turn to trying to get fertiliser on but this could take a while as it will take a week or two yet until its dry enough to travel! I'm also looking at how we can manage the grass better, perhaps splitting some fields with electric fences early in the season and then moving towards a mob grazing system rather than set stocked fields as we go into the summer months. Let's hope for a warm and dry Spring!
Even though lambing is done, the workload is still high with shearing getting off to a good start and plenty of other jobs to get on with.
Overall the change in lambing system seems to have gone well, with lots of lambs and happy ewes. We had a great team of students helping us again this year, with nine at the peak of lambing and despite the slow start, by the end of the second week 1,400 ewes had lambed. There were a few wet days and the ground never actually dried out until the end of lambing but with a good team of people on the pen barn, there were always people to help dry off and warm up lambs. Wildlife was a problem again with foxes and badgers taking a few lambs and ravens attacking countless lambs moments after they were born. Red kites are also becoming a problem, although not killing lambs they scavenge with the ravens and one point we could see twelve circling above one lambing field!
By the end of lambing we have ended up with 120 orphans, mostly off triplets. They are looking very well with most weaned on to creep and waiting to be turned out soon. A very good decision we made was to hire an automatic milk mixing machine which has meant the lambs always have fresh clean milk, although it has cost a bit to do it has definitely saved a lot of time and certainly meant healthy lambs.
Everything has now been covered for fly and all lambs have been wormed against nematodirus and vaccinated against pasteurella and clostridial diseases apart from the two youngest mobs. It’s at this point we count up the lamb numbers to see what we have and so far things look very good. Losses haven’t been bad and lambs are now growing well and thriving as it’s gets warmer. Our replacements arrived on the farm at the start of lambing and since then have been crutched and are now waiting to be shorn.