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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#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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10 things you’ll know if you grew up on a farm

Being at home for summer has made me feel nostalgic.

Here are 10 things you will know if you grew up on a farm!

Nothing is ever a five minute job 

If they say it is then they are lying!

You’ve learned from experience that lending a ‘quick hand’ turns into a twenty minute operation followed by a list of jobs that takes you all morning to complete, making you question why you volunteered in the first place.

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Moving sheep takes longer than 5 minutes

Bale twine fixes everything 

Waterproof trousers too big? Bale twine belt.

Setting up a temporary race? Bale twine.

Lost your dog lead? Bale twine.

You’ve probably lost count of the amount of times someone has asked you for some whilst working. It has happened so often that you dream about charging. After all, it’s an essential pocket requisite that fixes almost every problem.

You can’t out run a sheep

But you can certainly try! You counted this as your daily workout as it left you out of breathe and threatening to sell the troublesome (to put it politely) ewe at auction the first chance you get.

There is no such thing as being snowed in 

Snow is no longer exciting when there is a 4×4 always on hand. But you do look pretty cool rocking up to school on your dad’s tractor.

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Dad to the rescue

Who let the ewes out? 

Field gates left open becomes a Spanish Inquisition around the kitchen table. No matter how many times you proclaimed your innocence, the blame was assigned to you and dad muttering ‘next time I’ll do the job myself’.

Days off always coincide with bad weather

Booking planned events and actually going is something of a novelty to you. Especially in summer when you are constantly on call for seasonal jobs.

Friends know from experience that you will be missing in action once the weather forecast improves as you’ll be either in the shearing shed or driving a tractor, whether you want to or not. After all, farming comes first in your household.

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Even on days off you can’t escape farming

What’s a lie in? 

Certainly something that doesn’t happen in your household with your parents considering any time after 8.30am a lie in.

And the horror (and slight envy) when university friends text you at 4pm saying ‘sorry I’ve only just woken up’ whilst you have been working hard all day.

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Love/Hate relationship with the weather man 

You developed a changeable relationship with the weather forecasts from an early age as it was the most discussed subject on the farm.

TVs were often tutted at and switched off if they stated unsuitable weather for proposed plans and there was an element of speculation surrounding upcoming forecasts. You constantly played a game of who dares win and it was typical for it to rain once you have grass down.

But no matter how many times you trolled the internet in search of a more favourable weather report it always stayed the same – or sometimes got worse! You just learned to get on with it.

Smartphone but no signal 

You have spent years searching for a certain spot in the shed where there is enough signal to send a text. In fact you have perfected the lion king scene, holding the phone up high and hoping it sends.

Yet dodgy signal still plagued your rural life and internet was a rarity. People who sent Snapchats/Instagram posts from the lambing shed simply amazed you!

Fine dining equals a trip to the local auction 

You were more than happy to accompany your dad to the auction and stand around a cold ring looking at livestock just for those auction lunches.  You developed a favouritism towards a certain auction mart cafe and believed they were second best to your mum’s roast dinner.

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Mmmmm

Those are my top ten things – if you have any please let me know below!

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Filming at the Farm 

The secret can finally be shared…

Last week (10/4/2017) ITV Granada came to our farm in Lancashire to film lambing, in particular the fell sheep.

I got to meet some of the team, such as Jo Blythe (weather presenter) and Simon the cameraman! They were incredibly friendly and eager to get going.

Filming started around 10am and we headed to the fields to get some outdoor footage before the rain started pouring.

Feeding time

Setting up the camera

The photos above show Dad and Jo feeding the Swales whilst the cameraman and producer filmed.

The sheep had just come off Pendle Hill (in the background) ready for lambing.

Seeing as we will be lambing them outside, they are moved to enclosed fields – this is so we can keep an eye on them and get involved should any problems occur.

I enjoy seeing sheep lambing outside, especially the Swales, as they have their own technique – when they are starting to lamb they segregate themselves to the outset walls to give birth.

Then, after a few days and when the lamb is strong enough, the sheep will gradually make their way back up the hill to join the others. It is amazing to watch.

Once we got the footage, Jo interviewed my dad, asking him a range of questions such as ‘When does a lamb stop being a lamb? and ‘How important is farming to the landscape?’

It was great to watch how they filmed the interview from different angles to get in a range of shots.

After a quick brew, we headed back outside to go and see some mules and lambs a few weeks older.


I drove Jo and the producer to Downham in my defender. Dad followed on behind with the camera man and Polly.

Luckily the sun came out and the lambs were running around the field, enjoying the media attention.

We spent a good 20 minutes watching them play as well as soak in the landscape, something we don’t often have chance to appreciate!

Finally, we stopped off at the lambing shed. They were shown the milking machines and the many pet lambs that we look after (up to 200 so far!).

Some of the older pet lambs

We let Jo get into the pen and after a few minutes she was surrounded by nibbling curious lambs! She loved every minute.
Apparently we should market it as ‘lamb therapy’ and charge £50 per hour. Who would be interested?!


And as an extra bonus, a mule sheep had just lambed a healthy set of twins for the cameraman, demonstrating exactly  just how busy and demanding lambing time is!

Newborns

Whilst I didn’t actually get to be in front of the camera, I did teach Jo the correct way to bottle feed a lamb and had a lot of fun chatting about all things farm related.

Me doing what I do best… bottle-feeding pet lambs!

Overall I really enjoyed the day filming at  the farm!

It gave me an insight into tv film producing but most importantly, showcased the hard work farmers up and down the country are currently doing to viewers everywhere!

I think it is important for young farmers like myself to raise awareness about the amazing work farmers do to tackle inaccurate misconceptions and myths about the industry floating around in the media and to highlight the hard work and pride we have for our livelihoods!

After all, it’s not just a job, it’s a lifestyle!

As a special thankyou, the cameraman took an aerial shot of some of our farm with his drone for us to keep.

‘It’s not much, but it’s home’

Tune in to ITV Granada on 8/5/17 @ 6PM to watch and let me know if you enjoyed it!

And if you missed it, here it the link to watch it whenever you have time. http://www.itv.com/news/granada/update/2017-05-08/jo-blythe-helps-with-lambing-in-lancashire/

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The end is nigh…

The past 2 months has been extremely busy with lambing!
Thankfully the end is in sight with the Swales happily lambing outside and the inside mules being finally down to double figures *the relief*.

The past 2 months has been extremely busy with lambing!

Thankfully, the end is in sight with the Swales happily lambing outside and the inside mules being finally down to double figures *the relief*.

Whilst I have no new exciting tales to tell, I thought I would share with you some photographs taken from tonight’s farm visit. After all, everybody loves photographs of cute lambs.

Polly was eager to accompany Dad and I on our ‘twice a day check’ of the outdoor hillsheep. We do this to make sure that the sheep and lambs are all okay and are able to intervene if not!

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We drove around the sheep, bringing in any that we were concerned about.


We check for problems as we ride around, looking out for sheep who have lost lambs (either dead or mismothered), who are ill or having problems lamb.

Tonight, we only had to bring two sheep in – one had twins but had unfortunately lost one, whilst the other had neglected to look after its young lamb and it was starving as a result.

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As you can see, Polly was obsessed with the poorly lamb and wanted to get stuck in helping.

Additionally, it is an also an opportunity to take in our surrounding scenery, – that is when we have the time!

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For me, there is no better sight than a sheep outside with healthy twins. It makes me feel wholesome and proud of our work here on the farm.

After checking the outdoor sheep, it was time to venture into the lambing sheds.

We all have indivual tasks to get the jobs done quicker: I go around and fill the various water buckets and hay nets, whilst Dad rubbers and marks lambs. Perhaps the short straw, Mum’s job is to feed the many pet lambs we have acquired.

Below are some general lamb photographs I took this evening for you to browse at!

Before we left, the lambs decided to put on a race for us in their pen. Call it “The Lamb National”.

Now it is time for a strong cuppa tea and a well earned rest – before we go back down later on to do it all over again!

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Farming Fridays

Breaking up for Easter means one thing: LAMBS!

I have *unfortunately* missed some of the chaotic rush that Lambing time brings due to being incredibly busy at University. But now that term time has finished for an entire month, I can finally shove on my wellies and get stuck in! (I never thought I would miss the farm and its hectic schedule!)

Today was an incredibly sunny day and Ziggy made the most of it, basking in the sun, whilst I clambered into my Landrover Defender and headed down to the farm.

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Ziggy being the ultimate poser

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Landrover View

To my delight my sheep, Augusta, had lambed overnight and had two healthy lambs without any complications! They are 3/4 Texel and 1/4 Beltex and will hopefully make a good set of lambs.

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Augusta and her two newborn lambs

After checking the other sheep and making sure none were lambing, I helped my dad create a large pen for the numerous pet lambs that are occupying the shed.

First we made a pen for the lambs – it needed a lot of straw and space so that they could run around.

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Stage 1: Prepare

Next, we had to make a board with teets (which the lambs suck on to get milk) and wire it up correctly to the milk machine. This didn’t take too long as Dad knew what he was doing (as we have used these machines for quite a few years now!).

We then checked the teets were working by squeezing them to make sure the milk was coming out.

Then came the tricky part – catching the larger pet lambs and transferring them into the new pen! They certainly worked off their milk intake, as they were incredibly quick and difficult to catch.

It took me a while to transfer them all, as they ran rings around me, but once moved, it is safe to say they LOVED their new home.

Once this task was complete, I helped my mum load the kubota trailer up with sheep and lambs – we often turn twins out into the fields after a few days to free up pen space in the sheds.

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Lambs all ready for the field

As you can see, the lambs go into different compartments – this is to avoid them getting mixed up and going to the wrong sheep, making turning out an much easier process.

Whilst mum was turning the sheep out, I took the dogs for a quick walk as they hadn’t been out of the kennels for a bit.

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Polly admiring the view

Polly, despite being a farm dog, is wearing a lead because she is in a field with livestock! All dog owners must keep their dogs on a lead at all times when in field with livestock (abiding by the countryside code!)

It needs saying once again, due to the numerous amount of sheep worrying stories I have read about recently, that farmers are allowed to shoot dogs worrying livestock and NOT compensate owners! Keep this in mind when walking your pooches on farming land!

Before I set off home for tea, I stopped off to look at some of the smaller pet lambs and have a cuddle.

After tea, it was back to the farm – feeding pet lambs, filling hay nets and water buckets and lambing sheep. Whoever said farmers were lazy clearly haven’t visited a working family farm in Lambing time?!

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Sunday Dog Walk

Home from university once again. After all, nothing beats spending the weekend relaxing in a cosy farm house with unlimited cups of tea and home cooked meals.

Home from university once again.

After all, nothing beats spending the weekend relaxing in a cosy farm house with unlimited cups of tea and home cooked meals.

I spent my Sunday afternoon in typical style; taking our two hard working border collies, Polly and Becca, for a run around the fields with my boyfriend.

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Polly, Ryan and Becca in view of Pendle Hill

They are a fairly new addition to the farm, as for a while we did not have any working dogs. However, they are as good as gold and I could not imagine life on the farm without them.

Polly is my favourite of the two, possible because she is extremely loyal and clingy. She is simply an attention seeker who loves everyone she meets, expecting cuddles whenever she wants them.

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Polly mid cuddle

In comparison, Becca is more independent and quiet, which isn’t surprising given that she is the younger of the two and more inquisitive. Yet she can be stubborn and ignorant, in that she is happy to entertain herself with water or rolling in the ground rather than simply running on ahead.

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Becca playing in what is the worlds smallest puddle!

As they are both pretty crazy and full of energy, it is almost impossible to get them both in the same photograph!

Here was my best attempt and I feel it captures their personalities perfectly: Polly craving attention and Becca playing with a stream, not paying any attention to me at all.

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Becca (Left) and Polly (Right) with me

After 20 minutes of letting them run around the empty field, they were tired out and ready for a rest. As we approached the gate, Becca spied the sheep in the nearby shed and her herding instincts started to kick in.

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Nearly home!

After feeding the dogs in their newly built kennels which they got for Christmas, I quickly checked on some pregnant sheep to make sure they were all okay before heading off home.

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All safe and well

And that was how I spent my Sunday afternoon, walking our dogs on the family farm and checking the pregnant sheep that will be lambing come late February/Early March.

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AS A SIDE NOTE: If you are walking your dogs in the countryside over the next coming months, it is CRUCIAL that they are kept on a lead near ALL livestock!

Nothing aggravates me more than seeing sheep wounded and stressed because of peoples’ pure ignorance that ‘their dog would never attack a sheep’.

Research by SheepWatch UK showed that more than 15,000 sheep and unborn lambs were killed in 2016, with many more injured.

Under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and Protection of Livestock Act 1953, the owner or person in charge of the dog who is worrying sheep on agricultural land is guilty of an offence and could be sentenced up to two years imprisonment as well as face destruction of the dog.

Farmers may also ‘shoot a dog which is attacking or chasing farm animals without being liable to compensate the dog’s owner’.

If livestock is nearby  PUT YOUR DOG(s) ON A LEAD.

It is not a big ask!!!

Respect the countryside and its inhabitants.

Sheep worrying promotional sign updated

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Scanning Sheep

The alarm went off. It is 5:00AM. Despite the strong urge to hit the snooze button, I dragged myself out of bed and shoved on as many clothes as possible. Why?

The alarm went off.

It is 5:00AM. Despite the strong urge to hit the snooze button, I dragged myself out of bed and shoved on as many clothes as possible.

Why?

Because it is time to go scanning.

Now, I am presuming most of you reading this will not be from a farming background and so may not know what I mean by ‘scanning’.

Scanning is when sheep undergo a pregnancy ultrasound; the process does not hurt the sheep and allows farmers to determine how many lambs each sheep will have, making management of stock simpler and more efficient.

As scanning often takes places 10-15 weeks after the tup (male sheep) has been introduced to the flock, it usually happens around Jan/Feb time. Hence the need for layers!

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Frosty morning view from the Landrover Defender

My job for the morning was fairly straight forward: keep the sheep coming!

This involved running around the sheep and shooing them up the race; imagine me flapping my arms like a chicken to generate enough movement and noise to get them to move.

Whilst it was quite a repetitive task, it kept me warm, something my toes, which were starting to feel the frost, were glad about.

All the sheep we gathered for the occasion were scanned within three hours and had fairly successful results; most would be having twins or triplets.

Collectively their wool was an array of colours, with each marking representing when they are likely to lamb (green = early as that is the colour of the teaser tup) and how many lambs they will be having.

Next we dosed all the sheep, sorted them into the correct colour groups and herded them back into the fields, all in time for breakfast.

Yet we still have more sheep to scan, and I have a feeling lambing time is going to be a very busy time indeed!

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