Blog: Tom 'Ernie' Richards
1st March 2016
Tom 'Ernie' Richards (22) is an NSA Next Generation Ambassador from Leintwardine, Shropshire. The power of modern technology means Tom (who more often goes by the name of Ernie) was able to do his NSA Next Generation Ambassador interview from Fuji! He coincided the visit with a working holiday to New Zealand before starting a new job on the England- Wales border. Ernie starts as assistant shepherd on the 1,000-head purebred Lleyn flock, with a strong ambition to progress to head shepherd in time. He is very excited to be working under the guidance of his new boss and improve the flock in terms of breeding animals and prime lambs reared. The current target is to sell at least 20 quality, performance recorded tups a year, with 30 being the next step. In the longer term,
Ernie would like to progress from shepherding to having his own flock, and has an interest in the Roussin as a crossing sire for Lleyn ewes. Online promotion is something Ernie sees as a powerful tool, within farming to sell genetics and outside farming to raise awareness of the sector. He is keen to start this through his current role in YFC, encouraging fellow members to learn more about lamb cuts and cooking.
Top fact: Ernie approached NSA to help find a work placement as part of his course at Aberystwyth University. He ended up working in Cumbria, with the then NSA Chairman John Geldard, followed by a stint in Canada.
Scroll down for entries from Ernie about his farming year so far in 2016.
With a milder winter almost behind us, the grass is looking promising at the moment, making turnout an easier task and recent sunshine adds to the pleasure after the wet weather we have seen so much of. With sun on their backs and plenty of milk, seeing lambs out on grass is a highlight of the job!
Lambing is slowly but surely underway, with the ewes looking well and lambs arriving healthy and at good sizes. With all the earlier lambing ewes indoors, it will soon start to get busy! The majority of the later lambing flock are still outside, with ewes carrying singles on a sheltered bank, and those carrying twin on swedes. Accompanied by hay, the swedes are a good feed source for pregnant ewes, keeping them in good fitness before being housed in the coming weeks. Recording any promising ram lambs has been introduced this year, to achieve a small number of potential breeding rams for future sales. Using EID technology, the lambs are being recorded at birth, with my future intentions being to record at key production stages, in order to gain as much information as possible.
I left the first NSA Ambassador session this month with even more passion for the sheep industry than I arrived with, after meeting fellow young sheep farmers with copious amounts of enthusiasm and drive to develop their own businesses. The first meeting was full of information, generating questions, making us all think about our flocks, and evaluating what improvements can be made to gain better returns. A session on condition scoring was most interesting to me as it is something which I’m going to concentrate on with the Wernoog flock of Lleyns we run at home. A session in preparation for lambing also gave us a useful checklist, and a couple of reminders for the next couple of months.
“In like a lion, out like a lamb” has definitely not been the case this March, with storm Katie blowing us away over the last few days! Despite this though, the weather in March has generally been good. Since my last blog at the end of February, the signs of spring are upon us and the daffodils have just begun to make an appearance along with some welcome grass!
The renowned Easter bank-holiday was well spent with a well-deserved coffee in the lambing shed, not by drinking a beer at the local pub! Lambing is still in full swing and we’re about half way through the second bunch of ewes now. The Wernoog flock is lambed in two groups of 500, working alongside my boss Stuart and his wife Helen, the first 500 ewes defiantly kept me on my toes and we had around 350 lamb within seven days! The Lleyns are a dream to lamb though, lambs are coming strong and the ewes are in good condition. Good weather has meant we’ve been able to continuously send ewes and lambs outside, which has meant lambing has flowed well. This year, we’ve also started to EID record some of the ram lambs as we’ll hopefully begin to sell some as breeding stock
At this stage, keeping the ewes in good condition is key. Ensuring a plentiful supply of milk for the lambs and moving them regularly also helps to keep grazing fresh. The lambs are growing fast, and seeing your hard work skipping around the fields, makes you enjoy the job even more!
Lambing is over! Well apart from the 10 stragglers! When you look back at the last couple of months lambing and think how busy you’ve been, you do wonder how you do sometimes! But seeing the next crop of lambs come strong and healthy makes it all worth it and with no major problems, lambing has been largely successful. All the sheep are out now, the lambs are enjoying a bit of sun on their backs and are growing very quickly, particularly the older March born lambs who are six weeks old now. The lambs off the hogs are looking good too, and although lambing hogs can be troublesome, the Lleyns strong maternal instinct at lambing makes them excellent mothers now and for the future. Here at 1,100ft the grass is just starting to grow and there’s a fresh look over the farm. Days now are spent snacking bunches of sheep, moving them regularly to keep fresh grass under the ewes. Feeding supplementary feed is important to ensure the ewes are in enough milk to support the lambs.
The arrival of some drier weather has also meant muck spreading and other machinery jobs can be done. The old swede ground has been manured and started to be cultivated to sow a grass ley in the next few weeks.
My new sheepdog, Ben is getting on well too. For a seven-month old dog, he is coming on very well and after some stern words, he his listening well to basic commands. Training him is a pleasure and his progress is very noticeable on daily basis, although he is gaining more confidence which at lambing can be testing when moving ewes and lambs. He is keen and interested though so fingers crossed will make a good dog and until now there hasn’t been any farmyard politics between the farms other dogs thankfully!
After venturing up to Blackpool for a quiet pint with fellow young farmers for the NFYFC AGM at the beginning of May, the warmest weekend of the year so far has defiantly changed the landscape. With temperatures reaching in the mid-20s, the grass has responded in growing quickly which has given the sheep a much wanted boost. Supplementary feeding has now stopped but the sheep are still checked daily and moved regularly as good grassland utilisation is important to ensure sheep are not on the same pasture for a prolonged period and with nine bunches of sheep, the morning rounds take up best part of the day but I love going around all the stock, especially with the lambs growing fast.
The hogs have been taken off there wintering field and put through the handling system, treated for worms, cobalt deficiency and taken to pastures new. Assessing the hogs, gives a good idea of potential yearling ewe sales for the autumn. Apart from sheep, we have been busy with other jobs, general farm maintenance, chain harrowing, muck spreading, sowing grass seeds and fencing. In the last couple of days the farm also welcomed 40 Radnorshire young farmers for the pre rally stock judging competition. With the choice of breed being Lleyns it has been an honour to present a sample of the Wernoog flock to judge. It was good to see so many young people come together with the interest in sheep. I feel events like YFC stock judging are a brilliant tool to promote and educate young farmers, and holding the event here gave us the chance to highlight the Lleyn breed and give those who attended a better understanding of the breed characteristics and attributes.
Where has another month gone? We’ve seen a mixed bag of weather here in Shropshire, a warm and sunny start to June soon turned to lot of showers and heavy rain in the last few weeks. This has been good for catching up on workshop and inside jobs, however trying to get the sheep shorn has been a different story. The warm start to the month meant the yearlings were dry enough to shear, they were soon pitched and taken to summer keep and are all really looking well. There are some strong potentials among them for the autumn sales too! Shearing the main flock was a harder task though, becoming a waiting game for the wet weather to stop. Getting a 1,000 ewes dry and in sheds for shearing was a mission but went well in the end and was a relief to be done, easing the likelihood of ewes getting blowfly strike and ending up stuck on their back.
Since my last blog in middle of May, the sheep have been through the handing system numerous times. All lambs have received their first drench to protect against nematodirus and received treatments to protect against blowfly strike orf. We’ve also had all the ewes through the combi clamp to assess their body condition and prepared them for shearing this month. The buildings have all been cleaned out and littered with wood hip now too. We find woodchip is a brilliant alternative to straw in providing clean housing for the sheep. As well as sheep work, other jobs such as topping, fencing and building maintenance have kept us busy over the last few weeks.
What a very busy month! Hay making, sheep work, general farm maintenance and lots of NSA activity.
July started off with cutting some grass for hay and with everything crossed, the weather held out and over the last month we have manged to cut all the grass intended for hay, making some nice good quality forage for the winter. With the wet and mild summer, the grass has kept on growing and the grazing fields still have ample grazing left with a plentiful supply for the freshly weaned lambs. Weaning lambs this time of year is always a good opportunity to sort the sheep and in our situation, it provides the best opportunity to get our lambs sorted and split the ewe lambs off to be sorted for breeding sales. The ewes have also been sorted to get an estimate for the number of breeding ewes for the forthcoming year.
The middle of July saw the Royal Welsh Show take place although the high temperatures meant the beer tent was replaced with the tractor seat to make some hay. I did manage to take some time off to enjoy the show and it gave me a good opportunity to see many young farmers and young shepherds showing off their high quality livestock.
The last week of the month was a busy one, filled with a lot of NSA activity. Monday saw the third NSA Next Generation session take which incorporated the NSA Sheep Event. Unsurprisingly it proved to be a very busy day all us Next Generation Ambassadors and the event was full of atmosphere, showcasing all aspects of the sheep sector. I was also asked to do a number of interviews. for local tv and radio, explaining why I loved being a young shepherd and trying to inform people about the industry. I was also given the chance to interview Farming Minister George Eustice for a feature on the BBC Midlands Today news. I felt very proud to be asked and lucky to be given the chance to ask some drilling questions to the Minister on the options for young entrants into the sheep sector, especially for those without a direct link to agriculture like myself. Expectantly, I did mention Brexit and questioned the Minister on the Governments intentions regarding trade deals with other countries. Overall it was very good experience and I feel I did my best to represent not only young shepherds in the agricultural industry.
The farm I work on were also lucky enough to be part of the pre NSA Sheep Event farm tours this year too, and it was great to see a bus load of visitors coming to the farm. I felt proud to be hosting the event along with my boss Stuart and his wife Helen. Displaying the Wernoog flock of Lleyns to welcomed visitors and being able to show people the high quality stock we produce makes you feel a sense of achievement.
The beginning of September saw Love Lamb Week take place, an initiative set up to promote lamb to a wider audience. I used my role as an NSA Next Generation Ambassador to gain as much promotion as possible with included an article in the Farmers Guardian on my Love Lamb Week plans, sharing pictures of my lamb dinners on social media as well as organising my YFC club (Teme Valley, Herefordshire) to visit local farm shop Weobley Ash where we watched lamb and mutton go through the butchery process, right up to the point of taste. Telling the story from field to fork, shop owners Helen and David Pickersgill gave the young farmers a brilliant evening and a chance to taste lamb and mutton, encouraging them to see what a great product sheep farmers produce.
My local NSA committee (NSA Marches Region) also held a committee meeting recently, at which myself and fellow NSA Next Generation Ambassador from the region Ellen Helliwell we invited to conduct a presentation. Together, we enlightened everyone about the different things we get up to as Ambassadors and how well organised and worthwhile the sessions are, as well as how much we both enjoy representing NSA. Feedback from the group was great and it was nice to hear that the sheep industry are open to young entrants.
Thing on the farming side are looking in good shape, with plenty of grass. Moving sheep regularly is keeping the sheep looking well and giving them fresh grazing means all fields are having regular breaks. Sheep work recently has mostly been evolved around sales. The Wernoog flock of Lleyns are marketed through society sales and privately off the farm so September is a busy month getting sheep ready. A very mixed trade has meant we are selling more off the farm. However, we feel the society sales are very important in giving us a chance to show off our stock with other Lleyn breeders and talk to potential buyers. Along with selling breeding stock, we had our first selection of prime lambs, sending 60 ram lambs away to the abattoir at Farmers Fresh, Kenilworth. Achieving good carcase weights and conformation grades, we were very happy with the feedback.
The end of the month was the fourth NSA Next Generation session which saw us going to the British Wool Marketing Board at Bradford and a nearby wool processing plant. Seeing wool grading and packing made us all realise how much work goes into wool production. The second day was a visit to Skipton market and to a nearby farm who operate a share farming agreement. I feel share farming is a good incentive for the older generation to take step towards retirement, while giving a path in for a young entrant wanting to enter agriculture effectively. The third day was a live to dead training day at Dunbia which was a great opportunity to learn about market requirements and specifications.
I can’t believe we are into October already. The sense of autumn is here and good grass growing conditions have meant ewes are in good body condition for tupping. Routine pre-tupping tasks have been undertaken, including fluking all the sheep as the damp summer and milder winter means the risk of fluke has been heightened in recent months.
To produce registered rams for sales, we need to know the dam and sire for the progeny so we’ve been busy selecting which ewes we want to go to a particular ram for mating. All the rams are now in with ewes so fingers crossed for a successful scanning in a couple of months.
Aside from sheep work, we’ve been busy with jobs such as hedge trimming, fencing and general farm maintenance. The end of the month has seen some colder nights, showing signs of frosty mornings to come and has meant we have started to get the winter housing cleaned out. Getting the buildings ready in good time is essential if the weather starts to turn very wet. Bringing some stock in over winter makes management easier, but essentially helps the pastures recover over the winter and freshen up before lambing in the spring.
Life too has also been busy with young farmers. Being the chairman of Teme Valley YFC in Herefordshire is proving to be a busy task which I’m loving. Organising trips, visits and meetings are a brilliant way to get young people together and I really enjoy getting everyone ready for competitions and seeing younger members keen to undertake different activities is great to see. Similar to YFC, the NSA Next Generation program is a brilliant way to get young like-minded people together who can relate to one another thorough our own experiences.