Shearing 101: What happens?

Having grown up on a working sheep farm, I have witnessed thousands of sheep be sheared safely and professionally each year.

So to counter some of the myths and misconceptions circulating which suggest shearing is cruel and exploitative, I thought I’d document an afternoon in a shearing shed in Lancashire, UK.

The videos and photographs have not been altered/photoshopped so what you see is what happens for yourself.

SHEARING

Here is a video of Luna, my ‘pet sheep’, being clipped.

This is a typical example of how sheep are sheared in the UK.

Seth, our local shearer, completes the task in 54 seconds.  

This may not be the quickest time but notice how the sheep is relaxed and unharmed by the process.

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The trailer set up

Farmers usually hire skilled and patient shearers who care for the welfare of the sheep – after all it is their livelihood in the shearers’ hands!

If a shearer is careless and unprofessional, word of mouth gets around and so they would not get any business.

No farmer would hire someone who physically abuses their sheep!

Seth (left) and Chris (right) busy shearing

I have yet to encounter a shearer who attempts “fast work without regard for the sheep’s welfare” a claim on PETA’s website.

Possibly because shearers are often from farming backgrounds themselves and so understand the animals they are dealing with.

They shear the sheep as if they are their own, taking extra care and time rather than rushing to “get the most sheep done”.

Sheep often move when being sheared but it is rare that shearers actually cut them.

If the sheep is injured, farmers and shearers work together to treat it immediately.

It is utter nonsense sheep are left to bleed out or shearers quickly do a ‘botch job of the stitching to save wasting time’ – every sheep is cared for on our farm without a time limit!

Shearing sheep also provides farmers with a chance to check their flocks health.

We can clearly identify which sheep is lame/has a bad bag whilst it is being sheared and so mark it with spray so that we can treat it afterwards. 

So shearing sheep helps us identify any health problems the sheep may have and treat it as soon as possible.

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You can clearly see the bag and feet with this angle

Once sheared, the wool is wrapped.

And this is what freshly sheared sheep and tups look like …

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Freshly sheared texel tups
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Freshly sheared ewes

Notice the lack of blood gushing from limbs?!

WOOL WRAPPING 

Here is a video of me showing you how to do it (not my best or quickest attempt but you get the gist).

Below is a before and after photograph of wool wrapping.

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Before and after

The wool once wrapped goes into wool bags which are then stitched and  labelled so that the British Wool Board knows where the wool has come from and who to pay!

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Once wrapped, wool gets placed into the bag
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Once the bag is full it gets stitched up
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Then we add labels

Nowadays wool does not bring a lot of profit to a farmer, especially after paying the shearers and labourers.

In fact, the average wool cheque prices for 2019/2020 had ‘halved’ due to Covid-19 global market closure, with farmers receiving an average of 32p/kg for their wool.

So the idea that sheep are shorn for ‘monetary motives’ seems bizarre, given the lack of a profit margin within in the wool industry.

The best reward sheep farmers can get from wool is this certificate!

WHY DO FARMERS SHEAR SHEEP?

Sheep farmers shear their sheep usually once a year during the summer months when the temperatures become hot.

They do this because it has great health benefits for their flock, in that shearing:

  • Prevents buildup of manure and urine that can lead to parasitic infection and flystrike- long fleeces are likely to become dirty and drag along the ground.
  • Allows adequate wool regrowth which improve the sheep’s ability to control its body temperature during extreme heat and cold conditions.
  • Creates a clean environment for newborn lambs.
  • Decreases the chance of heat stress.

It is crucial to shear sheep annually for the sake of their health and not to do so would be incredibly cruel and detrimental to the flocks health.

I hope you have found this blog post informative and let me know if you have any more questions about sheep shearing!

Off back outside enjoying their new haircut

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Eating sustainably – how consumers can support British farmers

After plenty of drunken conversations at 3 am in the morning outside fast food shops in a busy city centre, attending a non-agricultural university really opened my eyes to how out of touch my peers are with British food production and modern farming practises.

After plenty of drunken conversations at 3 am in the morning outside fast food shops in a busy city centre, attending a non-agricultural university really opened my eyes to how out of touch my peers are with British food production and modern farming practises.

Yet these late night conversations illustrated a deep-rooted desire from my peers to know where their food comes from and how exactly it is produced.

Whether a meat-eater, vegetarian or vegan, I firmly believe your choice to eat what you want is yours and yours alone. But whilst I am not prejudice towards other peoples’ choices, I have encountered prejudice due to my farming background and different perspective about the production of food.

For instance, it is often not recognised that British farmers are producing food for everyone across a range of price points that is affordable to all.

But more often than not I am told misconceptions about the industry that are simply not true and have encountered a lot of negative, hostile opinions.

Happy healthy grass fed lambs

And with the climate change conversation taking more and more precedent in media coverage every day, I, like many other farmers, feel it is time to set the record straight about British agriculture, especially red meat, and the importance of eating seasonally and sustainably.

Did you know that the UK is one of only four countries grades A in animal welfare globally?

Some much needed TLC

This means British agriculture has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world: so purchasing British meat ensures that from farm to fork, that animal has had the best quality of life adhering to the best welfare standards at every single stage.

The UK is also one of the lowest antibiotic users in the EU – usage on British farms reduced by 53% on farms between 2014-2018. This means UK farmers are using antibiotics on farm in a responsible way to tackle and prevent antibiotic resistance in comparison to globally where antibiotics are seen as a tool to enhance faster, more profitable animal growth.

Interestingly, only 65% of UK farmland is suitable for growing grass and grazing livestock – this means the land cannot be used to grow cereals, fruit or vegetables. So grazing sheep and cows is the best way of converting this luscious green grass into protein fit for human consumption whilst making efficient and sustainable use of one of the country’s most natural resources.

But perhaps more impressively, these livestock pastures also act as carbon sinks, sequestrating atmospheric co2 in the soil as well as providing vital habitats and food sources for some of our most treasured wildlife species.

This is why British beef has a carbon footprint 2.5 times lower than global average and is incredibly sustainable!

And although we are all very fortunate to live in a society where we can eat strawberries at Christmas and can access world wide produce all year round due to imports, I feel slightly uneasy that the importance of seasonal produce is not even an after-thought for most shoppers.

Buying British produce in season not only supports your local growers but also reduces the environmental impact of food miles and ensures flavoursome nutritional health benefits too!

Farm fresh seasonal strawberries anyone?

In the UK carrots, cauliflowers, potatoes and peas are available from British growers all year round but other fruit and vegetables have much shorter seasons – why not visit the Great British Larder to find out what is in season when!

With the UK average household only spending 8% of income on food, the third lowest in the world, it therefore does not seem to me an unreasonable ask when considering all of the above for consumers to spend an additional £1 on British produce, especially red meat, rather than purchasing cheaper foreign alternatives.

After all, it is all about making conscious choices regarding the provenance of the food in your fridges and cupboards and by buying British you are simply supporting sustainable agriculture.

So how do consumers select British produce?

Below are four labels to look out for on packets of produce on your next weekly shop. These apply to everyone – meat eaters, vegetarians and vegans, so there should be something for every dietary requirement!

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Red Tractor 

An independent UK whole chain food assurance scheme, Red Tractor assures the highest standards of food safety, animal welfare and environmental protection from farm to pack.

Inspections are made regularly to ensure that producers are meeting certain standards, such as food safety, animal welfare and the environment.

The logo can be found on:

  • meat: beef, lamb, pork, chicken, turkey
  • dairy: milk, cheese, cream,
  • cereals and flour
  • fruit, vegetables and salads
  • sugar

With strong characteristics of tracability, animal welfare standards, 100% British and environmental protection, it’s time consumers #trustthetractor

Home

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British Lion Mark  

The British Lion Mark is one of the UK’s most successful food safety schemes, selling more than 130 million eggs since its launch in 1998.

 Their eggs are produced under the requirements of the British Lion Code of Practice which covers the entire production chain.

It has strict safety controls such as a guarantee that all hens are vaccinated against Salmonella and a ‘passport system’ making all hens, eggs and feed fully traceable.

Healthy hens = happy hens = eggs!

https://www.egginfo.co.uk/

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Quality Standard Mark 

One for you meat eaters.

Quality Standard Mark is a scheme for beef and lamb which has a strict selection process to ensure that it is succulent and tender.

It also tells you where the meat originates from: for instance, there is a St George’s flag if the animal was born, raised and slaughtered in England and the Union Jack if any part of the process took place in Scotland and Wales.

It is really that easy to buy British beef and lamb!

http://www.qsmbeefandlamb.co.uk/quality-standard-mark

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RSPCA Assured 

The RSPCA Assured label ensures that every stage of an animal’s life has met their Five Freedom Standards. It can be found on meat, poultry, diary and fish products.

Their vision is for all farm animals to have a good life and be treated with compassion and respect.

It covers all types of farming – indoor, outdoor, free-range and organic farming and includes regular traceability checks.

Fun fact – M&S became the first supermarket retailer to supply RSPCA Assured Milk in September 2017!

https://www.rspcaassured.org.uk/

Where else can I find British food produce?

British products are not only found in supermarkets – they are widely available in butcher shops, farm shops, markets and pubs chains (such as J.D. Weatherspoon) across the country. Have a google and see for yourself!

So, take the time to be more aware about the provenance of your food and what makes it into your mouth…

And if you want to know where to buy any British products from, the National Farmers Union (NFU) has a handy online resource which tells you which supermarkets you can buy all your British produce from, catering for all dietary choices.

https://www.countrysideonline.co.uk/home/get-involved/how-can-i-back-british-farming/

I hope you have found this helpful and as always, let me know if you have any questions.

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Polly the collie had puppies!

Autumn on the farm is always a chaotic time with seasonal breeding sheep sales across the North West taking precedent most weekdays and weekends.

BUT the arrival of our first ever litter of border collie puppies ensured it was going to be much more hectic than normal!

As a child, I yearned for puppies, but no tiny wagging tails materialised.

So, my excitement was uncontainable when I received a text from Dad in the middle of May hinting that Polly, our hard-working border collie, could be expecting.

Polly looking pleased as punch with her little family

After nine long weeks of playing the guessing game and waiting patiently(!), Polly finally gave birth to three dogs and three bitches in the middle of a cold, wet, windy night.

Life on the farm has simply not been the same since the little time wasters have taken over…

I hope you enjoy the below photographs/videos documenting their adventures so far as much as I have done capturing them!


Did someone say tea’s ready?

Polly’s Bar: On tap milk available 24/7 hours a day
Solids twice daily
Look, no feet!

Little time wasters

I’m king of the castle… and your a dirty rascal!
Double trouble duo
Who needs a wobble board when you have an old dustbin!?
How many puppies can fit in a bucket?
Sharing’s caring…
That’s mine, give it here!

The great outdoors

Who let the dogs out?
Tag, you’re it!

Introducing Moss

I still have no idea how I managed to convince the folks to let me choose a puppy from the litter to keep as my own working dog… everyone meet Moss!

Those ears
Soggy puppy cuddles from Moss
If I hide under the defender maybe she won’t see me….
Moss is not playing ball …
Seems we both like a slice of Battenberg

The start of new chapter ‘Hannah and Moss’ and I cannot wait to document our future adventures today out and about on farm… Bring em’ on! 🍃😇🤘🏼


New homes, new adventures

After 2 months of chaos, cuddles and chuckles, it’s adventure time for the boys and girls off to new homes.

Luckily they are all staying fairly local, with three staying put on the farm and two off to live with our farm workers Robert and Kirk.

So for now, the last group photograph of Collie Class 2019!

From left to right: Bess, Bob, Moss, Pip, Ben and Tweed.

I hope you have enjoyed this collection of photographs and videos documenting the past couple of months of puppy mayhem on the farm.

Have you had any litters of puppies on your farm? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments below – I would love to hear all about them!

#LoveLambWeek

Unsurprisingly for a sheep farmers daughter, Love Lamb Week is my favourite campaign in the farming calendar – here’s why

It’s finally here…  the best campaign in the farming calendar (although as a sheep farmer’s daughter I am a bit bias!).

#LoveLambWeek is an annual campaign promoting the work of British sheep farmers and their efforts in providing the produce on your plates.

With over 65% of the UK’s farmland suited to growing grass (aka unable to grow crops), especially in Upland areas, grazing livestock is the best way of converting natural resources into protein rich lamb.

Grazing plays a key role in shaping and maintaining our iconic countryside and also stores a huge amount of carbon – a win win for everyone!

Swale lambs grazing at 1000ft above sea level

This year’s campaign, running from the 1st – 7th September, is all about celebrating everything that is tasty about sustainable British lamb and the health and wellbeing benefits of eating this red meat.

I’m quite old fashioned in that I like my lamb chops served with roast potatoes, veg and a dollop of homemade mint sauce.

But with recipes for lamb kebabs, herb rubbed steak and pies popping up all over the internet, the versatility of this delicious meat is becoming common knowledge, which is great to see!

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Teriyaki Lamb Stir-Fry

Here’s a link to some awesome lamb recipes from @simplybeeflamb should you wish to expand your tastebuds and cook something new! http://www.simplybeefandlamb.co.uk/campaigns/love-lamb-week

But whilst this is a week of celebrating this sustainable protein rich red meat, it is also a week of educating and shattering misconceptions about the production of lamb.

Some of these misconceptions have already surfaced on my social media timeline.

For example, this image.

It shocks me how misleading this image is.

Suggesting that the lamb in the photograph is a few months old is laughable – at most it is 4 days old.

Here is a photograph of a few months old lambs – let’s play spot the difference.

Just a shed full of lambs

Notice how these lambs are much bigger, with broad legs, neat and compact shoulders, have a good width of loin and their tails are not too lean or fat.

These are the kind of lambs, known as finished/fat lambs, that are served on your plate – not the week old cute and cuddly one in the photograph.

But what bugs me more is the misconception that farmers are cruel to their sheep!

The reality is that sheep farmers care too much about their flocks wellbeing and a lot of time and planning goes into producing a lamb!

A short insight into a year of lamb production…..

Autumn If farmers did not care, we would not spend days at an auction ringside, bidding at sheep/tups sales for additional or replacement stock to ensure our flock grows in strength.

Winter If farmers did not care, we would not drag ourselves from our comfy warm beds at 5.30am to scan sheep in the freezing cold morning or go searching in blizzards of snow for lost sheep.

Spring If farmers did not care, we would not tire ourselves out during Lambing time for months on end.

The list of daily jobs include: bottle feeding pet lambs, marking and turning out, bedding up, feeding up, checking outdoor sheep, bringing in any poorly lambs – to name a few.

Oh and of course, lambing sheep!

If farmers did not care, we would not spend hours out in the fields checking on new born lambs and running after them until we are blue in the face trying to catch them so that they could go back inside for some extra TLC.

We also would not free the lambs who get their heads stuck in fences and suffocate themselves, a notorious party trick for horned lambs!

There is always one!

Summer If farmers did not care, we would not spend most of our time maintaining our flocks welfare through daily chores of dosing and foot-trimming (the smelliest job!).

If farmers did not care, we would not work long hours gathering and sorting lambs to go to the auction/abattoir in sweltering hot conditions.

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In charge of tagging

So, think again before stating farmers do not care as we clearly do! This, in short, is how the lamb on your plate is produced each year.

A final point to mention is that not all lambs are produced solely for meat! For example, on our farm we select Swaledale/Texel  lambs each year in order to improve the quality of our future flock.

For me, #LoveLambWeek is an incredibly important campaign that sheep farmers everywhere need to get behind.

It is time we educate our consumers about the provenance of their meat, rather than leaving it all to Google.

If you are still unsure about eating lamb, ask your local farmer questions and if possible, go and see how lamb is produced.

Support us by buying lamb directly from local butchers or consciously selecting British Lamb at the supermarket.

And finally join in with #LoveLambWeek and promote our hardworking sheep farmers!

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Staying Safe on farm

I’m incredibly proud to be a part of the British farming industry. But I am less proud of our health and safety record…

I’m incredibly proud to be a part of the British farming industry. It is a profession that is diverse and rewarding, with no two days being the same.

But I am less proud of our safety record which sees our industry taking the spotlight as the most hazardous, with a total of 32 farm related deaths occurring last year alone.

This needs tackling and is why am I supporting Farm Safety Week each and every week of the year.

It is a simple concept that can saves limbs, lives and livelihoods if implemented across UK farms.

Granted farmers can be set in their ways, grumbling about ‘health and safety’ procedures claiming they a) take too long b) cost too much – but as the saying goes, if you play with fire you will get burned.

It is incredibly disheartening to see farmers, young and old, lose their lives doing what they love, all because of quick decisions/carelessness/lack of awareness.

Wearing a helmet when operating ATVs can save lives!

So, as young farmers, we MUST utilise our voices and shout about the importance of farm safety to our peers and seniors.

Our position as the next generation provides the perfect opportunity to promote the safety message and tackle an outdated and quite frankly unacceptable attitude towards health and safety.

I have put together some safety tips for all farm workers to bear in mind this week and the remaining 51! Please let me know if you can think of any more.

Transport and Machinery

Perhaps unsurprisingly, transport and machinery was the biggest cause of death for farm workers last year.

Tips for T+M:

  • Cover PTO shifts and make sure they are in good condition. As the saying goes, don’t be daft, cover your shaft!
  • Wear appropriate clothing when working with machinery – no loose threads.
  • Wear a helmet when operating ATVs.
  • Use the Safe Stop procedure and switch off the machine before getting out – even if it is only to open a gate.
  • Consider all round viability.
  • Maintain your vehicles at any costs necessary.
  • Know your limits and stick to them!

Working at a height 

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Everyone falls over. I always fall up and down stairs. But falling from a height can have serious medical complications…

Tips for working from height:

  • Do a quick mental risk assessment before carrying out the task.
  • Inform work colleagues/family so they know where to find you/what you are doing.
  • Make sure the equipment is in good condition – only use ladders that are in good condition and long enough for the job.
  • Avoid overhead power cables.
  • Consider if the task can be carried out safely from below.

Livestock 

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Everyone has been chased by a cow at some point in their life. But incidents involving animals can become severe quickly so it is vital that you work with animals safely.

Tips for livestock:

  • Be competent and agile – if you feel unsafe at any point tell someone.
  • Have an escape route. Animals, like humans, can become aggressive, especially if offspring is involved, so you need to be able to get to safety as quickly as possible.
  • Keep cattle calm when handling them & never turn your back on a bull.
  • Make sure work surfaces are clean to avoid slipping.
  • Always treat animals with respect – they remember bad experiences.

Children on farm 

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Growing up on the farm can be the best thing ever. It certainly was for me! But the farmyard is an incredibly busy place and presents many dangers for children.

Tips for children:

  • Keep track of family members and their whereabouts.
  • Make sure all family members know what to do in an emergency and have a prepared list of emergency numbers.
  • Implement good hygiene practises in the home to stop diseases spreading.
  • Have a safe and secure play area for the children to prevent them from playing near livestock/machinery. The garden is always a good starting point!
  • Keep children away from moving farming machinery and vehicles.
  • Keep children away from animals unless accompanied – I was bitten by a working dog when I was one!

It is time our industry commits to making changes on farms to save limbs, lives and livelihoods and I hope you have found these tips on staying safe on farm helpful.

But more importantly, I hope everyone stays safe farming!

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The most horrific sight

*Warning graphic content*

It has happened again. There has been yet another dog attach on a sheep.

*Warning graphic content*

It has happened again.

There has been yet another dog attack on a sheep. It is a common occurrence in the farming world, with new cases of livestock worrying appearing on my social media timelines daily.

But this time it’s closer to home and I am beyond devastated for our neighbours who discovered their sheep half mangled, flesh dropping off and unable to eat, the other day.

The infuriating part is that the person and dog responsible for destroying a perfectly healthy ewe simply left as if nothing happened, leaving this traumatised sheep suffering in the field alone.

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Photo credit: Bob Hargreaves

They did not even tell the farmer.

And that angers me.

Why don’t people take responsibility for their dog’s actions?! Why is it so hard to use a lead around livestock?!

One solution would be to yell “GET OFF MY LAND” and deny walkers and their beloved dogs access for good. But farmers are not this stereotype.

Sure, these are working landscapes but we LOVE seeing people appreciate and enjoy the great outdoors as much as we love working day in day out to maintain, protect and enhance it.

Importantly, most walkers and their dogs do abide by the countryside code and have the upmost respect for its inhabitants. And I could not shout thank you loud enough to these people!

So, closing off fields and denying access would be the worst-case solution for everyone.

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Photo credit: Bob Hargreaves

The solution is therefore obvious: be responsible and use a lead around livestock.

After-all, you cannot control your dog’s actions just like you cannot control what the person next to you is thinking – so why take a risk that has the potential to destroy lives and livelihoods, both for the farmer and yourself?

Livestock worrying is a CRIME.

I wonder how many more gory photos of blood-soaked wounded sheep it will take for this message to hit home?

Or perhaps a photograph of a dog legally shot dead as a result of worrying livestock would help the message sink in?

Save us all the heartache and use a lead around livestock. It really is that simple.

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What the older generation of farmers can teach us …

It is no secret that my grandad is my role model and inspiration – at 90 years old, he continues to farm every single day and shows no signs of retirement any time soon!

It is no secret that my grandad is my role model and inspiration – at 90 years old, he continues to farm every single day and shows no signs of retirement any time soon!

As the average age of a UK farmer is 59, here’s what these old timers can teach us about farming…

Perseverance = Success

From World War II fighter planes flying over meadows to the outbreak of Foot and Mouth, the older generation have continued to produce delicious British food whilst adjust to adverse, extreme circumstances.

But they have also persevered and adapted to ever changing consumer fads and market demands, with shifts from native to continental breeds to the fluctuating lamb trade.

Throughout all these changes, whether ordinary or extreme, these farmers have recognised the need to adapt in order to succeed and, in my eyes, should be the dictionary definition for the word perseverance!

Tradition triumphs 

Tried and tested over many generations, traditional methods for completing farm tasks are fool proof.

Don’t get me wrong, it is fantastic that agriculture is such an innovative and progressive industry, with exciting new technology and machinery being developed, especially in the arable sector.

But since they’ve yet to come up with a machine to rebuild dry stone walls or a robotic sheepdog to gather the fells instead of man’s best friend, it seems old traditional methods remain at the heart of 21st century farming!

Time to get learning those skills…

‘Maybe I should buy a new tractor…’ (Grandad, 2018)

You are never too old to try something different or learn something new, no matter how long you have been farming for.

Whether you want to diversify the business and set up an ice-cream parlour, or give rearing calves a go, life is too short for regrets. After all, nothing ventured nothing gained and if it fails, it’s one to tell the grandkids!

Repair not replace

I hate to admit it but my generation has a throw away attitude, since it is often cheaper and quicker to replace something rather than faff around fixing it.

Yet the older generation are a crafty bunch when it comes to problem solving: from adding an additional step on the tractor to make getting in easier to the classic using bale twine to tie a gate shut until they can fix a new lock, they’ve got it down to a fine art.

Here’s hoping we can also harness our own creativity and tackle problems with an open mind, rather than resorting to an online eBay shop to find the solution.

A Love Of The Land

As long term guardians of the great British countryside, the older generation have helped shape the land and environment through conservation, preservation and moderate use of resources for numerous years.

So it is their love of the land, their understanding and appreciation of the ground beneath their wellies, that shines through their work and livelihoods, as they ensure the land is left in a better condition for the next generation of UK farmers.

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Wall to wall sunshine

Yesterday the BBC Breakfast team visited our farm to learn about how the prolonged period of dry weather is effecting farmers (in particular livestock farmers) across the country.

Yesterday the BBC Breakfast team visited our farm to learn about how the prolonged period of dry weather is effecting farmers (in particular livestock farmers) across the country.

Whilst Polly may have stolen the limelight with her best-behaviour and displays of affection for the presenter, the issue is extremely serious and worrying for all involved in British farming.

Here is why the recent weather is so problematic for livestock farmers up and down the UK – feel free to do a rain dance once you have finished reading – I know we would all really appreciate it!

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The Issues With All This Dry Weather … 

Despite being fortunate enough to have had a couple of rain showers here in the past month, LACK OF WATER is a huge issue for livestock farmers.

As an uplands farm, our high pastures have natural water supplies which, due to the heat, have dried up: as a result there are areas of the fell that our sheep cannot graze since they do not have access to water.

Hopefully when the rain returns the grass will become moist and more palatable for the sheep with drinking spots becoming replenished.

Usually full with running water

The LACK OF GRASS on livestock farms is another major problem across the UK with the potential to cause economic and mental health impacts on farmers and their businesses.

With little grass available, cattle farmers are having to fed winter reserves (hay or silage) to their animals a lot earlier than normal.

If this dry spells lasts another month, as recently reported, it will have knock on effects for farmers wanting to make additional silage to replenish winter stocks already eaten: a crop of grass usually takes 5/6 weeks to grow and harvest if weather is ideal.

So, as winter and the fodder shortage lurks in the background of their minds, farmers may be forced to sell animals sooner than planned to ease the burden on their limited food stocks.

Likewise, sheep farmers are also finding the dry weather tough! Here at Downham we have had to wean lambs earlier to limit grazing pressure, supplementing their feed with lamb nuts to finish them for market as soon as possible.

Meadows that we closed for second cut silage have been reopened as the grass supply runs short: hopefully a change of weather will allow us to shut them up again and make a late cut of silage!

Elsewhere in the UK. Photo Credit: Kay Hutchinson

Thinking forward, a potential problem is sheep wintering, (sheep are usually sent to dairy farms in the winter months to graze grass whilst cows are housed indoors), since there will not be as much surplus autumn grass around.

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Finally, the lack of the rain and high temperatures means the risk of WILDFIRES has increased and could become a potential issue.

Seeing the devastating fire of Winter Hill from our fell (fortunately from a distance) served as a poignant reminder about the unpredictable quick nature of these fires.

I hope the public continue to abide by the countryside code during this prolonged period of dry weather to keep the countryside and those that inhabit it safe.

It is not unusual for farmers to work with the seasons – they regularly plan their workload according to the weather forecast. It’s also been lovely to finally have a summer with some sun!

Yet this prolonged period of dry weather has been particularly challenging for livestock farmers since it is has the potential to be financially costly to businesses, with the stress no doubt impacting emotionally on farming families across the country.

As Thomas Fuller once said:

“We never know the wealth of water until the well is dry”

If you or anyone you know is finding the recent weather tough, don’t hesitate to contact any of the below: 

R.A.B.I: Call 0808 281 9490 or visit their website http://rabi.org.uk/need-help/

Farming Community Network: Call 03000 111 999 or visit their website http://fcn.org.uk/contact

NFU Fodder Bank: https://www.nfuonline.com/news/featured-article/the-nfu-fodder-bank-is-now-open/#Below

Fodder Aid: Call 07967 219991or visit their website http://protect-eu.mimecast.com/redirect/eNpNkEFPwzAMhf8K8rnNkrTb0p02IbhMcNsFTapC6o2ypqncRBVC_He8MgGnWM-f8579CeSGCBt4ww574UKMSG3XbftTEoHOIl0ggy442KgMiEmdAY5tw0W5KsqqqtYZRB-fQ4P8jZSG-XbgUpmlUEYJpUtRFqwO85Q2GSTqrpYxDpvj4riYpkmcAtkz2rb5c8VrroeX-rDXJtdFfX_YK1nslrLWUhlZSlUrWacLJ_arnJ1zbdR6tZTr2c1yZvidYcWlMQaP5H6i_m-NfUMsWX5w2lL4mCw1J0t-5JN4BgjPbegZGShEdDHHJHzr0dkx3pAxvb4z8DgvcrfjZefDPIXU895wywlf38VSb34

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Lorna Sixsmith’s ‘Till the cows come home’ – Book Review

When Lorna dropped me a message one evening asking if I would review her latest book ‘Till the cows come home’ on my blog, I was delighted (and a little bit flabbergast!) to accept.

When Lorna dropped me a message one evening asking if I would review her latest book ‘Till the cows come home’ on my blog, I was delighted (and a little bit flabbergast!) to accept.

Here’s what I thought of it and how you can get your hands on a copy…

About Lorna 

Where to start … For those that don’t know Lorna, she is a 4th generation Irish farmer from Garrendenny (South East Ireland) who swapped her city life for her Irish roots roots in 2002. Along with husband Brain, children Will and Kate and two cattle dogs, she juggles milking 120 Holsteins with her two key passions: motherhood and writing.

Lorna has a strong female farming voice and is a fantastic agvocate, flying the flag for team dairy, female farmers and agriculture in general. From co-managing the @IrelandsFarmers twitter account where a different Irish farmer curates each week to co-organising the South East Women in Farming group, it amazes me how she still has time to write and I have the highest respect for her!

To date, Lorna’s publications include Would You Marry a Farmer? How to be a Perfect Farm Wife and An Ideal Farm Husband. 

You can follow Lorna on Twitter @LornaESixsmithor visit her websitefor more information.

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The book’s blurb

Fuelled by dreams of a rural idyll, Lorna Sixsmith and her husband swap the 9 to 5 for a return to her family’s ancestral farm at Garrendenny.

They love the fields and lanes of their corner of Ireland where their black and white herd flourishes, the land where the patterns of their lives echo those of generation of Sixsmiths before them.

But a rural existence isn’t a heaven on earth. Bad weather, runaway bulls, temperamental farm machinery and cows that refuse to be milked can test anyone’s patience. But not for too long –  the fields, the animals, and the laughter always wins out.

Warm, witty and wise, Lorna Sixsmith effortlessly mixes family memories, social history and her own hard-won insights into life on the land.

My Review 

When I first received my hardback copy in the post it was love at first sight – cliched I know!

Its vibrant front cover depicting Lorna and her beloved Lou immediately grabbed my attention and as I quickly flicked through it I was delighted to find cow patterned lining and quirky farm related sign off icons at the end of each chapter. It looked so good and I felt privileged to be one of the first to experience Lorna’s personal farming memoirs.

If you are a bit of a history nerd like me, you will ADORE the first few chapters of this book as it explores both the history of Garrendenny Farm and Ireland’s agricultural background in general.

In particular, Chapter 3 ‘The Fields of Garrendenny Farm’ and its discussion of the story behind each name captivated my imagination.

 ‘Naming fields is an fitting affectionate tribute to their lives and means they [the people] will never be forgotten’. 

In fact, it made me consider the field names on our own farm, fuelling a personal desire to seek out, discover and document their unique stories and the people involved, just as Lorna has done in this chapter.

Lorna has mastered the ability to provoke a feeling of familiarity for readers through her description of people: readers are sure to recognise similar characteristics and traits within their own farming community. Personally, I would have loved to have met Joseph Sixsmith, Lorna’s slightly eccentric Grandfather (her words, not mine!), whose aversion to the colour yellow meant he never ate eggs – imagine the conversations…

Likewise her account of riding Lucy the pony at High Shores made me reminisce about my own childhood days hacking out in the fields – and the strong battle of wills between a mare and her rider!

‘I then appeared over the brow, cross Lucy had outsmarted me and determined not to let her get away with it. I got back on eventually, but we both knew that she had won the battle as we rode home with the wind behind us.’

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My favourite chapter was definitely the titular ‘Till the cows come home’.

It is in this chapter that Lorna’s storytelling ability glistens, as she craftily balances humour and emotion to describe the gut-wrenching event: the death of her favourite cow.

Brain: ‘She never shat on me in the parlour’

I had to hold back tears (both of sadness and laughter) as I imagined Brain’s emotional, and extremely matter of fact, reaction to the devastating news.

In fact, throughout the memoir Lorna deploys this kind of humour that left me grinning from ear to ear urging me to read on.

‘Can you not run faster? I heard Brain shout as I tried, in vain, to stop the calf [..] I wasn’t wearing a sports bra, my jeans were belt-less and kept sliding down and the ground was so rough I was convinced I was going to break or sprain an ankle if I didn’t watch my step. I didn’t respond well to shouts from my husband to run faster either.’

If, like me, Lorna’s recollection of chasing a runaway calf, left you in stitches as you picture the scene/ recall a similar event in your own past of chasing escapee livestock (my attempt to corner a lamb this spring!), you are certain to enjoy the rest of the book’s laugh out loud moments – there are plenty for you to sink your teeth into!

Final Thoughts

Lorna’s book definitely has a feel good factor about it, through its emotional anecdotes celebrating various stages of Lorna’s farming life and past. It combines history, murder (yes that’s right, MURDER!), birth and agricultural lectures in 24 delightful chapters, leaving you feeling a part of Lorna’s wonderful farming family and her many adventures.

Yet despite our differences in upbringings, Lorna on an Irish dairy farm vs me on a working hill sheep farm in Lancashire, her memoir is littered with sheer relatable content that upon reading brought back floods of memories about my own farming childhood. It left me feeling proud of my farming heritage, my unique upbringing and instilled more motivation to keep writing/blogging about my farming adventures.

As an English Literature graduate I’m extremely picky about which books make ‘the shelf’  but I am certain Lorna’s memoir, for a variety of reasons, will remain treasured on my bookshelf for many years to come – I hope you all enjoy reading it as much as I have.

Book Tour 

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Lorna’s book is going on a blog book tour this month and if you enjoyed reading what I thought of her memoir and wish to find out what others thought of it then the image above has all the details you need!

For those wishing to purchase a copy of this fantastic book for yourselves, the hardback is available from 30/5/18 in all major retailers and costs £12.99. Happy reading!

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Stress and My Countryside Remedy

It’s exam season and like most students up and down the country I am STRESSED, especially since they are my final ever exams (well – unless I fail and need to resit!).

It’s exam season and like most students up and down the country I am STRESSED, especially since they are my final ever exams (well – unless I fail and need to resit!).

It’s also Mental Health Month and given that the focus of the campaign this year is stress,  I thought I’d blog about my ‘countryside remedy’ that has kept me sane during this intense revision period.

After all, it is good to remember that exams aren’t the end of the world (even though they may feel like it) and giving your brain muscle a short rest whilst you explore the  beautiful English countryside will be beneficial in the long run, or so they say.

So here is what I’ve been getting up to instead of revising, ops!

Walking through Bluebell Woods.

Sometimes you just need to go outside and soak up the fresh air and that’s exactly what I did on my trip to the aptly nicknamed Bluebell Woods. Some of the best views on the farm aren’t on the public footpath and this is certainly one secret delight.

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Not only was the pungent smell of this endangered wild flower both overpowering and invigorating but as the sun crept through in-between the trees, I was amazed by the sea of purple petals as far as the eye could see.

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I only wish my phone camera captured it better!

Videoing some Pet Lambs playing 

Lambing time may be over but the work simply isn’t – it seems as the day gets longer, the list of jobs does too!

So I took advantage of our evening trip to the farm to video one pen of pet lambs playing. Don’t they look so content?!

Reading under a tree and watching the world pass by/ and walkers! 

Pretty self-explanatory as I took an old jacket and stationed myself under my favourite tree for a couple of hours.

But I didn’t get much reading done as I was too busy watching the world go by: from laughing at the youthful swale lambs as they ran and jumped down the bankings to talking to walkers passing by.

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Taking the dogs for numerous walks

Back in Easter we acquired another sheepdog called Jade and I decided to take all three out for a run around the yard…

I have never met a more energetic playful collie, and trying to get her to sit still for a photograph always ends up in me getting knocked over and licked, as the photo below demonstrates!

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“Instagram Worthy”
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“The Reality”

Turning sheep back to fell 

And off they go, back to the fell until clipping time! It always amazes me how hardy swaledales are, especially the lambs at such a young age.

I pulled the short straw as dad drove up Pendle on the quad, leaving me and Jade to make our way up, shooing the sheep and lambs uphill as we went. Boy was it cold and windy, despite the sunshine.

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Lucky I didn’t leave any behind and managed to jump onto the bike for a ride down, even if it was struggle for space with the two dogs!

Photographing the various sunsets 

Living in a place with little light pollution means I get to witness some fantastic sunsets. Here are some of my favourites for you to enjoy.

So that’s what I have been getting up to the past couple of weeks.

Since I haven’t discussed anything particularly interesting, you may be sat there wondering what is the point of this post?

It’s simply to demonstrate that these everyday ordinary countryside distractions have helped reduce my stress and negative feelings towards my final exams: it’s my ‘countryside remedy’ to stress!

Therefore my advice for anyone struggling with exams or stress in general is just take some time out for yourself to do something you enjoy and don’t feel guilty about it. It doesn’t have to be exploring the great outdoors, it could be having a nice bubblebath or that long awaited catchup with a best friend.

After all it’s vital you MIND YOUR HEAD!

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