3rd April 2017
Richard has achieved something that is often spoken about in the sheep sector but not frequently achieved – offering grassland management in return for rent-free access to land. He does not pay for any grazing in and around his home area of Corsham and takes advantage of local affluence to sell half lambs at £75 each, as well as hogget and mutton. He started his campaign with his mother-in-law, taking on her unmaintained fields to improve aesthetics and increase sward diversity. Word spread and Richard now runs his entire flock by offering conservation grazing and grassland management to a number of clients. Currently he puts North County and Welsh Mules to Texel, Suffolk and Hampshire Down rams, but Richard has a growing interest in the Hampshires and is looking to add a pedigree flock to his enterprise.
Top fact: As a passionate marketer of British Lamb, Richard threw himself into Love Lamb Week in 2016. He made special sausages for a farmers’ market and hosted a five-course lamb and hogget tasting menu in a local restaurant.
It was fantastic to sit around the table with 11 other NSA Next Generation Ambassadors earlier this month and really appreciate the versatility of the sheep industry.
In my own system, I am a grazier. I use other people's land in return for a grazing service. This has many benefits and keeps costs down but it does provide me with plenty of headaches when the grass is growing. I spend a lot of time moving animals around to achieve efficient grazing for the landowners.
As I write, the ewes are having their first hard feed and have been enjoying some lovely pasture hay made last year. Lambing is due to start on the 14th March and I am carefully planning ewe nutrition. The sheep scanned at 230% with nearly 40% triplets.
I have taken a booking for two lamb roasts for a wedding in July and I am hoping this will be a new side-line to my existing lamb sales. Once I have the kit I would like to do more of it, cooking over wood and getting that lovely smoked flavour through the lamb, something not achievable with the gas machines. As sheep numbers and acreage increases, I have found myself lacking in the canine help department. I have a solar panel field to graze over the summer and the thought of getting ewes and lambs out of there without a dog is gives me sleepless nights, so I have started looking into the possibilities of getting a sheepdog. It seems there are as many types of sheepdog as there are farming systems and everybody seems to have the best dog in the world (so they tell me!). Finding a working buddy is harder than I thought. With spring threatening and the days lengthening, there is plenty to be getting on with. An exciting and exhausting lambing time awaits.
In like a lion, out like a lamb’ is an expression used to describe the month of March and I am hopeful this will be the case again as turning ewes and lambs out onto good growing grass is always a pleasure. The lambing shed is set up, triplets and twins are split and empty bonding pens eagerly await their first guests.
In between watching the Six Nations Rugby and milking cows, I have been steadily gearing up for the weeks ahead. I have also been planning for the year ahead, particularly how and where I am going to sell my lambs and whether to run any ewe lambs on or buy shearlings again in the autumn. I have just invested in a wood fired spit roast machine for lambs, which I’ll be using for the first time in July. This could be a good string to my bow and provides a great shop front for my lamb. I will be looking into developing this side of my business as well as keeping up with the other outlets for my produce.
This month I have also taken on some more part time work with a 600 ewe pedigree Lleyn flock. This will be an eye opener for me as I haven't worked on this scale before. They will be lambing outdoors in April so it will be interesting to see another system.
The last time I sat down to write my blog, the lambing shed was full and I was just about to get going – it didn’t take me long as the whole lot lambed in the first 15 days! My Suffolk ram has belied the raddle marks and more or less caught all of the ewes so he is definitely a keeper. I’ve had some really nice lambs out of him, easy lambing, long and full and the lambs are up to suck in minutes.
Ewes and lambs out in the fields are doing well now and fine weather has pushed the grass on nicely. It is this time of year everyone wants sheep on their ground and I never have enough to go around, but soon as the grass stops growing I’ll have the opposite problem.
One of the nice things being a grazier is that I get to see the improvement a structured approach to grazing brings to pasture. It is something I really enjoy doing and it keeps the landowners happy.
There is always an interest from youngsters and families at lambing time so fuelled with no sleep and a glass or two of red, I came up with the idea of opening my doors next year for a lambing weekend. This could be lucrative, but it will also give people a chance to see what goes on behind the scenes and how lamb gets to the table. It's still in the planning stages - bookings will open in due course!
It's only a matter of time before the lanes will be alive with silage being carted here and there. I haven't seen any silage cut yet but it won't be long I'm sure. I saw the swallows were back today swooping over the fields and flickering about their business. As the countryside comes to life I am reminded how lucky I am to work in this industry. Driving around checking sheep on the early spring mornings sets me up nicely for the day.
I don’t think I’ve ever had to do a rain dance in April before, but as we roll into May there is definitely a dry spell. My rotational grazing is not recovering as quickly as in previous years and the sun, coupled with a drying wind, has really slowed the re-growth.
I have been relief milking for a friend in the past few days and racking up the hours. 3.30am starts have taken me right back to the lambing time feeling of exhaustion. Having a good connection with dairy farms has paid off for me though as there is often quality winter grazing available for sheep which I can make use of.
In terms of sheep work, I have been keeping the ewes moving onto fresh grass regularly. The Mule shearlings I bought last autumn seem to be doing well and my old faithful ewes haven’t let me down so far. Moving the lambs on to longer swards always gives me a few foot troubles so foot bathing is on the agenda this week.
Its nearly time to think about shearing and I have come to the decision to get a contractor in this year. I can take the wool of a sheep but after a few the air is usually blue, back aching and sweat pouring so I will definitely enjoy watching someone else shearing them this time. Post shearing the flock will get split up into five or six groups to graze some of the smaller pastures and paddocks at my disposal.
Show season is starting too and picking which ones to take is never easy. My annual trip to the Bath and West show fuelled my passion for farming again this year, it was like heaven for me when I was younger. Rows of gleaming tractors, sheds full of every breed of sheep, cow, pig and fowl you can imagine and scores of shops selling wellies, flat caps and checked shirts. What more could an aspiring young farmer want.
The sleepless nights are over, the shearer has finally been and the ewes look much happier in their summer gear. Fly strike really is the devil, and the combination of warm and wet in late May brought the flies and I expect the shearer’s phone was red hot.
Lambs are growing on well, I have been working particularly hard to keep grass in front of them whilst keep landowners happy with the grazing service I am providing. This is always a balancing act, but communication is the key as well as planning well in advance. Getting the stocking right on the paddocks available and moving round to suit sheep, shepherd and landowner always provides me with plenty to think about.
Grass has been growing and summer feels like it has properly started with plenty of hay and silage being made around me. I had a fantastic day down at the South of England Show this month working alongside NFU to promote Food and Farming. It was great to connect with the public about agriculture and showcase the variety and ingenuity within the industry. I also got to meet the Duchess of Cornwall at the show which was great, and although she didn’t want to buy a lamb box from me, she seemed very interested in the stand.
Now the ewes are sheared and the lambs have been wormed and fly covered, there isn’t much else to do to them for the time being. For me though, there has been plenty of work for other people alongside taking bookings for the lamb spit roast. I will start doing farmers markets again in August as well as ramping up the direct sales. This is something I really enjoy and will allow me some serious sheep shopping in the early autumn.
As I write the rain is falling and we need it. The arable farmers aren’t too happy about it but it has refreshed my grass and greened up the burnt looking pastures of earlier in the month. It’s a reminder that of the many of the variables in farming we can control, the weather always has the final say.
I have weaned my lambs this week and I am pretty pleased with them on the whole, although they have taken their toll on some of the ewes. Once the ewes dry up, they will go onto some fresh ground for a bit of R and R before the rams go out in October. I’m hoping to increase ewe numbers again this year to make use of the grazing available to me. A trip to the autumn sheep fairs is always exciting, although impulse buying can a bit of an issue.
I have done my first lamb spit roast of the year and in true British style it rained. But I was pretty chuffed with the lambs I had picked which meant the smoky flavour imparted to the sweet meat wonderfully. I could have done with a hand or two to keep it all hot and at its best and dishing it up, definitely something to think about for next time.
We had another great NSA Ambassadors session, starting at NSA HQ and ending in Milton Keynes. We met some great people, as passionate about the industry as we are and talked at length about Brexit, genetics, forage amongst other hot topics.
I am trying to formulate a autumn/winter grazing plan at the moment, which would allow for flushing, tupping and finishing some more lambs. It’s a bit of a head scratcher and plans can and will change on a daily basis, but I think it’s important to have a bit of plan in mind.