3rd April 2017
As a contract shepherd with numerous clients in Wiltshire, Dorset and Somerset, plus her own flock of Poll Dorsets, there really aren’t enough hours in the day for Alexandria. She lambs for a fellow Dorset breeder in September, before doing her own flock ahead of Christmas, and then moving onto more conventional lambing set-ups from February to May. But she convinced the selection panel she was a long way from being a busy fool, with a clear plan for her future. She has goals in place to allow her to be less reliant on external lambing work and have more of her own sheep.
Alexandria also wants to see change in the wider sheep sector, particularly when it comes to marketing UK lamb as a premium product with fantastic taste, environment and welfare credentials.
Top fact: Alexandria is excited to have recently secured a contract to supply lamb to Waitrose. She plans to increase numbers and sell 300 finished Dorsets a year by 2021.
Heading into the New Year I couldn’t help but feel all my hard work was over with the start of weaning our Dorset ewes, only to be promptly reminded that my contract shepherding is about to take me straight back into the lambing season!
Most of my time in January has been taken up grading prime lambs from a customer’s September lambing Dorset flock, as well as helping with weighing prime cattle and moving countless amounts of electric fencing. Alongside their commercial flock, we have been selecting lambs to go forward to the upcoming spring and summer sales, including Mayfair, the Dorset society’s main sale and the Centurion sale for recorded flocks.
Into February saw me scanning, vaccinating and condition scoring ewes and replacements for customers ahead of lambing in April, as well as plenty of fencing on winter keep, turnips and grading Hoggs.
I’m already looking ahead to tupping season in mid-May for my flock of Dorests. I’ll hopefully start splitting my flock into management groups A and B this year, to help me select the best stock keep replacements from without having to sacrifice numbers within the flock. It’s nice to finally see the grass starting to grow, meaning spring is well on the way.
This month has been a busy one and as my April lambing creeps up, the rush to complete vaccinating is upon me. This my favourite time to appreciate how well the ewes are looking and love to see them moving onto green pastures ready for lambing.
This month I have really pushed to continue training my young border collie bitch whenever the weather allows it, she has really come on leaps and bounds in just a few weeks and now has lovely balance and lots of confidence when moving sheep, almost too much!
As my own tupping date grows closer, I find myself pondering over which tupping groups certain ewes should go in and the potential to buy in new stock rams and replacements. I feel fortunate enough to of had the time to have a day away in Northern Ireland to purchase a new stock ram. I found it very useful to be able to see the rams on farm to assure they would suit my system, agreed with the management in place and to see the sellers had a common interest in the same genetics, even some from Australia and New Zealand. This is something we have selected via second or third generation and hope to use first generation in the near future.
Recently, I was pushed out of my comfort zone and had an article written about my journey into farming and becoming a shepherdess in the Western Daily Press, not normally part of my daily routine, however I found it very entertaining trying to get both sheep and dogs to behave for the photographer.
The beginning of April was mostly preparations for lambing, a team effort consisting of crutching all ewes over three separate farms totalling 2,800 head for the Dineley family. Thankfully the Racewell made the job far easier for the majority of the flock, allowing us to swiftly crutch with less stress on the expecting ewes.
Before I knew it, lambing had kicked off with the group of recently purchased Cheviot ewes. The purpose of these was to see how a new breed would do on a farm that had recently been taken back in hand by the Dineley’s. The farm is in high stewardship and only little improvements can be made to the existing pasture. The decision was made not to introduce part of the the farm’s existing flock due to biosecurity risks and unknown worm status. This is my first experience of the Cheviot ewe and I must say she lives up to her hill sheep reputation, preferring to be left well alone in her lambing paddock. Fortunately I was able to give the ewes much needed space as they were only stocked at 1.5 to the acre which meant miss-mothering risk was reduced and there was less pressure on ewes nutrition needs.
Back at home we’ve been busy splitting tupping groups. This year I’ve focused on the maternal traits when selecting new rams. Looking mainly into ewe longevity and the relation between a slight positive fat depth EBV and how well a ewe can maintain the correct condition score under commercial pressures. It is also important to me that she can maintain production of twins.
I looked into eight-week scan weight with the knowledge I could potentially increase the overall mature size, meaning my ewe size could get bigger than I would like. However if I want to finish lambs faster and more efficiently, this is something I’m going to have to except and I’m aiming for a mature size of no more than 80kg. An example being one new stock ram for this year being top 1% scan weight and top 5% maternal index.
May showed a sure sign that my lambing season was drawing to a close. Good weather was had by all in the South West this season and it certainly made the job more enjoyable, opting for sun cream rather than waterproofs is always a good feeling.
Most of this month has been filled with the first clostridial vaccines, worming and fly cover for the April/May lambers. Now that lambing is over, we’ve also had time to finish shearing the shearlings, nearly 600 are done now - a job well done.
The end of May was not filled with my usual sheep orientated activities as I found myself going to from Miss to Mrs. However, it’s been no rest for the wicked and with no honeymoon I headed straight back into work to finish vaccinations, worming and fly cover.
We are planning a honeymoon to NZ for a month come February and I am already planning to visit certain dorset flocks around Christchurch to view potential new genetics. Not your conventional honeymoon, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. We’re attracted to the NZ genetics for their performance, particularly growth rates and muscle depth, as well as the genetics which make management easier like lameness resistance and ease of lambing.
The first of the second vaccinations are now due and have coincided well with the rise in worm burden on the lambs, indicated via the use of FEC monitoring. We did several on-farm trials on a selected number of lambs from different groups last year which showed an improvement in their finishing efficiency as a result of blousing wit selenium, cobalt and iodine so we’ve done that again this year.
I’ve found a little more time this month to continue training of my young collie bitch. We have now gone from running around looking confused to having lovely balance, a good stop and recently she’s started to learn her flanks. This could come no sooner as I found myself a dog short due to a long running injury in one of my main dogs and I was forced to make the tough decision to retire him. Saying this, I will not rush a young dog as I find too much pressure can delay progress.
The 20th of June was a scorching day for NSA Sheep South West towards the end of the month. With an abundant choice of trade stands and breed society’s present, there was plenty to see even in the heat. Overall a good day was had by all.