3rd April 2017
There is no shortage of strings to Alister’s bow – he works on the family farm, contract shepherds, shears and drives a lorry for MacTaggart Haulage. But within all this, his passion is breeding Lleyn sheep. He’s not afraid to criticise the breed for being ‘a bit pointy a both ends’, but sees them an asset on commercial farms when crossed to a terminal sire. He personally choses New Zealand Suffolks and Beltex to produce prime lambs, but is also hooked on performance recording to produce pure Lleyns to potentially sell at society sales.
His plan over time is to spend more time with the pedigree and commercial flocks, exploiting the current understocking of the farm to develop a business that could support him on more of a fulltime basis in the future.
Top fact: Having seen a ‘pop up’ pig roast shop doing a flying trade in Glasgow one evening, Alister is convinced more imaginative lamb sales techniques could benefit the industry. He is even threatening to give it a go himself!
February is the time of year I have a welcome break from several busy seasons and get chance to prepare for the year ahead. The beginning of the month saw all the ewes and tups receive their vaccination against chlostridial diseases before splitting the ewes off into groups, depending on expectant number of lambs and condition score.
All the ewes are now inside for lambing in six weeks’ time. I monitor condition score religiously and can see a definite correlation between condition of individual ewes through the year and the problems they experience during more demanding seasons like lambing. As I’m just shy of a month from lambing now, my number one problem at the moment is prolepses. The offending ewes are not necessarily over fit, but the triplets and quads are the biggest offenders and I’ve started feeding three times a day to try and help the situation a little.
Earlier in the month we sold our nine-year-old Beef Shorthorn bull. He was tremendous and served each cow every year without bother. He’ll spend his retirement in Ayrshire now. After a failed attempt at buying a replacement at Stirling, we’ve finally found his successor at Carlisle, together with a tremendous in calf heifer with the view of breeding our own bull.
Away from the farm, I’ve had a few days out on the lorry doing general and livestock haulage, gathering lambs from all over Dumfries and Galloway and Ayrshire to head south to abattoirs. Many of the farms I’ve been to are into their last lambs of the season and are glad to see the back of them as they can begin to prepare for the coming season.
After embarking on my first NSA Next Generation Ambassador delivery session this month, the quality and passion of the other Ambassadors truly humbled me. The talks and discussions have inspired me to push my sheep enterprise forward even more and it has given me plenty of things to think about in the upcoming months.
Lambing has just started here and with an abundance of ewes lambing triplets and quads, I’m hoping the singles get started as soon as possible to try and adopt some and reduce the number on the bottle. I’m all set to try a trick with salt water to persuade ewes to accept orphan lambs after seeing it on Twitter! The lambs being born are good sizes, averaging 4.5 kg and lambing without any bother. As I mark and tag the lambs I always look at the ewes history using my EID reader and I’ve seen that one of my four crop ewes has now gave us 15 lambs - I can’t decide whether this is a good thing or not.
I purchased a new tup from Farmstock Genetics last year and used him on some of the earlier lambing ewes. So far they are showing real potential and a real different style from my other two so hopefully there might be a nice lamb to show in the coming season.
I’ve tentatively put a few ewes and lambs outside to make some space in the tunnel, however there isn’t a huge abundance of grass and the fields are soft under foot at the moment. The 20th of March in 2014 saw some of the worst snow we’ve ever had, with drifts of up to a meter and a half, so hopefully with these longer days, the weather will turn for the better and not to this.
I’ll soon be ordering some fertiliser to trigger grass growth, although early indications show a rise of around £50/tonne on last year so it would be good to see lamb prices jump the same nonetheless!
On my list of jobs is to faecal egg count each group of sheep and I’m even planning to test the ewes which have been housed to see whether they are carrying any parasites and decide whether it will be worthwhile dosing before they go out to the field to reduce risk and spread later. I’ll leave this month by saying good luck to everyone about to start or started lambing and I hope by without any major dramas.
Lambing went off with a bang with almost all the ewes lambing in four weeks. The weather and field conditions have been terrible which resulted in me filling every available space on the farm with ewes and lambs, when we eventually saw some spring like weather the fields were flooded with sheep instead of water. Lambing overall went well though, with the exception of some rouge bought in gimmers giving trouble with mastitis and a few still born lambs at the beginning.
For the first time this year I haven’t treated the single and twin lambs against watery mouth. There is so much press on the immunity of antibiotics so I’m trying to save it for when it is really needed. I can happily say I only had two cases of watery mouth, which were actually triplet lambs that had been treated! I can conclude good hygiene and lots of colostrums is cheaper and better for lambs.
The cows have been calving steadily. We are up to date with tagging and dehorning inside, with only 20 shorthorn cross cows left to calf and the highland cattle just beginning to start calving. In the midst of lambing we decided a new cattle shed was needed for cows with calves at foot and, stupidly, I said I would make the gates and feed barriers to save some money. I don’t think realised how long or tiring this job was going to be especially in the middle of lambing. But I am happy with the end result and the cows are happy in their new accommodation.
With the lambing finished by the first week of April, I’ve been able to get away from the farm, after feeding, for two days on the lorry gathering lambs for Dunbia and further afield. I do a small amount of contracting with my tractor in the summer too. This work is picking up rapidly with dairy farmers shutting fields off for silage and staring spring work. On 7th of April, the first silage of the year was cut and lifted just outside Dumfries so I think it’s about time to put some fertiliser on at home.
We are into May now and its my favourite time of year. Lambing has finished, calving is almost finished and summer work is about to start. Lambs are all out in the fields and dosed against coccidiosis and nematodiris, even with the cold weather there were a few lambs showing early signs of worms.
I’ve started weighing lambs for their eight-week weights and with all considered I’m happy the way the lambs are growing. I cannot help feeling frustrated that grazing availability hasn’t allowed for full potential, I feel as a business we need to look closer at grassland management. Lamb price has risen in the past couple of weeks and to take advantage of this I’ve selected eight shearlings which have not made the grade for breeding. I’m now left with the best six shearling tups from last years lamb crop, these will be registered and inspected in the next few months.
All the ewes have been treated against worms and fluke during weighing and are beginning to look like they need to be shorn - weather permitting, I’m planning on clipping them the third week of May. I retained 85 ewe lambs last year and have had them in to crutch and dose. I’m very happy with how they are growing and the next job is to pick out a couple to show. Ayr show is next where my partner is showing her Ryeland sheep. We had a day in the sun washing and dressing them to prepare which I really enjoy, its quite satisfying seeing them clean and ready to impress on show day.
Away from the farm I’ve been busy contracting, spreading a lot of fertiliser on arable crops, grassland, hill and everything in between. Silage has already begun in the area, with some of the dairy men aiming for five cuts this year. Contracting is going to boom in the next few weeks, so I’ve many late nights and early mornings ahead of me.
There’s simply not enough hours in a day! The dry weather has prompted a surge in my workload and at busy times like these I really struggle to juggle working at home and away, I’m at point where I think I need to do one or the other really.
Contracting has become seriously busy with silage in full swing and I will be cutting my own grass as soon as there’s a break in the weather. Clipping was going very well this year until my hand piece decided to go into limp mode and stop shearing, the old thing was inherited and it is a lot older than me so I can’t complain too much. Until I get it fixed, I’ve decided to phone in the shearers to give me a help on the final batch. They even lent me a handpiece before I began to feel completely useless, even if I only sheared one ewe to their three.
I’ve selected a few Lleyn ewes for showing this year and been trying extremely hard to find time to get them show ready, at the moment they seem more fitting to be in the show jumping section. Nevertheless, I’m still planning on taking them to Border Union, Kelso and Dumfries shows.
I’ve just returned from the Royal Highland Show and what a great week it was. I wasn’t able to show any stock myself this year after my MV accreditation certificate didn’t arrived in time, but I was able to give my better half a hand showing her Ryelands which won a few rosettes. There were some tremendously well turned out sheep this year and credit to all participants.
The end of this month saw me take some Lleyn sheep to Kelso show and I was delighted to come home with some rosettes. My tup and ewe lambs were the stars, both achieving a second each, a shearling gained a second and my gimmer got a fifth. With strong classes, it was a great day out and I’m pleased with what I achieved.
I also took my first home bread Lleyn tups to be registered at Lockerbie. I’m pleased to say almost all of them passed inspection, credit goes to the inspectors for doing such a thorough job while explaining to me what they were looking for during the process. I think this inspection process should be rolled out to more breeds, as it really does make sure breeders are all going in the right direction. Into August came the many wet days and nights spent with Taggy transporting lambs around the countryside to markets or abattoirs in Scotland, England and Wales.
The past month has been a complete whirlwind, metaphorically and literally. Locally, the word is this has been one of the wettest summers in eight years. I’m not sure if it’s been as bad as that, but it certainly has rained and fields are taking a long time to recover after silage and grazing. All summer we have struggled for grass on the farm and it seems every time I apply some fertiliser, it’s not only washed in but washed out within the week. Because of the shortage of grass, I’ve some lambs as stores to free up some grazing for the cattle and breeding ewes.
I think it’s only when I look back at my diary I realise how hectic things have been. Contracting has been coming in waves while the sun has shon and it seems every dry day I’ve been direct drilling grass or kale as well as spreading fertiliser. Silage at Williamwood was done in two stages. I took a risk with a couple of fields which ended up getting two full days of rain, when it did eventually dry out the bales didn’t look too bad thankfully, but a small amount of soil contamination means it will keep some cows fed. The second half went great with some really nice haylage bales made, half were square for feeding sheep in the polytunnel and the other half round for the young stock. The fields averaged in about ten bales to the acre and I’ll be getting it analysed soon.
An NSA Next Generation Ambassador visit to Barenbrug inspired me to do some reseeding at home, so I gave that a try this month and took the direct drill to the ground. This method is more than half the price of ploughing and although the seed is slower to establish, it is beginning to come away now and I will hopefully be able to finish some of the later lambs on it soon. With the days getting shorter and nights longer, it’s time to think about giving the ewes a good health check and bolus before tupping which I’ll be looking to do in the next couple of days.