If you want to know about teaching, you would go and ask a teacher so if you want to know about farming, a farmer should be your first port of call to see what really happens.
As sheep farmers ourselves, I think it is important to tell people what we do. I asked a group of sheep farmers if they could tell the general public about raising sheep, what would you want them to know?
My goodness I got some corkers.
Nothing needs to be added. This is sheep farming from the mouths of shepherds.
Andrea: “I want people to now how rewarding it is. Tough but the best. If there isn’t a day at lambing you sit and cry its not lambing. If people could appreciate lamb lunch as we appreciate our animals we’re half way there.The friendships, and loneliness. The hate of cull day and joy of new lamb.”
Jodie said: “My father in law can name every single ewe, it’s mother and grandmother. There’s no money in it anymore and it’s sad. We need to get wool being used again as cotton growing is our planets biggest killer at the moment.”
Morwenna: I can’t put in to words the Hart ache the worry and the joy of sheep.”
Sam said: “They are addictive.”
Michelle: “They insist on dying no matter what you do.”
Tanya said: “It is a rewarding sight. Especially when you go a purchase some lovely mule two-tooths to put to ram to lamb next year. Hopefully something for the fifth generation to take on.”
Charlie: “Autumn is the best time to eat lamb, when supply is at its highest.”
Louise said: “Lamb is a healthy meat mainly reared free range straight off grass. Sheep are not stupid they simply seem so if scared or confused. Sheep can remember faces, more faces than any other species.”
Caroline: “They are like Ferrero Rocher. You can’t just have a couple.” Meggan said: “I’m pretty sure sheep can read minds- especially the one you want to catch.”
Catherine says: “They have the most amazing characters. Our bottle fed lambs are certain they’re dogs, they push the other sheep away so they can get all the fuss and attention.”
Alison: “Sheep have two aims in life- to escape and die. Never let your husband count how many sheep you have… it won’t match how many you are “supposed” to have.”
Linda said: “At lambing time, the whole world is going on outside the barn, and yet a whole world with the same experiences is going on inside the barn. There’s love, death, argy-bargy, pain and contentment happening within. And then there’s me, swearing like an Old Town fish wife and murmuring encouragement at every turn. I loved my flock.”
Then Alex wrote this epic piece:
“Sheep farming is something that this in the blood. No one goes into sheepherding unless they are either born to it or clinically insane, because sheep are basically arseholes!
“They are food obsessed, maggot magnets with shit feet, a death wish and obtuse personalities; but they are also amazing animals that suck you in, tie down your heart and inject themselves into your blood so you can do no more than pander to their beck and call, love them and never get over your addiction to them… they are basically woolly heroin..
“The feeling you get when you see a ewe paw the ground, mumbling to herself and squatting like a weightlifter on ‘Worlds Strongest Man’ is like no other!
“You position yourself to watch proceedings, primed to jump in if help is needed, the crackle of adrenaline spiking through you… by the time you’ve had a ciggie and rolled up your sleeves in readiness, the ewe has pushed a slimy bundle into the world and is talking under her breath to it as she licks and cleans it… The rush as it’s little head jerks and it sneezes sending globs of afterbirth flying, then mere minutes after birth it struggles up on rubber legs and bobbles along the ewe to find its first drink of colostrum… If you weren’t already hooked you certainly are now! Waiting desperately for your next fix of this miraculous thing you have witnessed!
“Sometimes things don’t go to plan and you get a cade. These are your own personal crack dealer! The way they smell, the way they call to you & kiss you, suckle your nose/fingers/ears/anything they can grab onto (I’ve had my eyelid sucked before now!) because you are their world now, and the love they give is so pure and unconditional it is beautiful, it takes away your breath (and your sleep and sanity).
“Then you watch them grow, they go on to be mothers themselves and they bring their babies to see you, still suckling your fingers like they did at a day old, nibbling and searching for the treats they know you have; because even though you have maybe 100 more in the fields, these guys are your favourites, and they are never not your babies!
“They may be 5-10 years old, but they still try to get in the car, or take your cuppa off you (because coffee is the ONLY thing that kept you going & they associate the smell with your love & attention) or follow you like a dog when you get the flock in, guarding gateways with you instead of running with the rest.
“Then they get old. The tiny babies you raised from sticky and wet, through to weaning, watching them year after year with their lambs and apologising to the shearers; because cades are the worst to do, get slow. They should have gone through the market years ago because they were losing teeth or lost a quarter, or any number of reasons, but these guys never leave you… even when they need a rug (much to my Dad’s chagrin) or need to come in and be nursed… these guys leave you only when they die in your arms. Leaving a wanker shaped hole in your heart and a bill from the knackers because you can’t bury them, and maybe, just maybe, a lock of wool in your pocket that you slipped in there just before you said your final goodbye.
“Sheep aren’t clever, they aren’t overly useful, and they certainly don’t make you any money, but there is something about them that calls to you. Something that keeps you going back for more – and to the chemist for your regular script of Valium.”
I cannot find the person to attribute this to but it was so good, I had to include it:
“For years, sheep have had the benefit of being left to roam free on pasture, with minimal human intervention. Many of us have images in our heads of an open rugged landscape with a bearded shepherd and a trusty sheepdog. In many places, this still remains true.
“However, as the demand for lamb is moving away from being a seasonal treat, there is a demand on the industry for lamb to be available consistently all year round. This results in many lambs being brought indoors, to allow lambing to happen at times of year when there is a shortage of fresh green grass.
“Believe it or not, when left to the natural seasons, lambs should be born at Easter rather than consumed at Easter. This then allows them to be fattened on grass over the summer. In order to have young lamb ready for Christmas or Easter, farmers are often forced to rear indoors, meaning some lambs will never get to graze on pasture.
“If you want to enjoy good lamb at Easter, you should try to go for hogget, which will naturally be one year old when Easter comes around.
“To enjoy lamb that has been reared outdoors, on natural pasture-based diets, it is important to look out for free-range or pasture-raised lamb when you’re shopping. By doing this, not only will you receive a better product, but you’ll also be flying the flag for lamb produced more as nature intended.”
I think this is such a thought provoking read. What sheep farmers really feel. Is there anything you would add?
Don’t forget that the only way we can support sheep farmers and our heritage in British lamb is to buy it. Ask your supermarket if it’s British. Ask your butcher if they know where the lamb is from and don’t buy it if it isn’t British. It is as simple as that.
With huge thanks to the Artful Farmer’s Wife Group who helped me out as always.