A shepherd’s diary: August

The latest monthly shepherd’s diary instalment from Monica Akehurst, East Sussex based sheep farmer and regular monthly contributor..

We have been blessed with some descent weather and the sheep have definitely benefitted. Lambs have grown well. This year we have had less feet problems. We tried foot vac for the first time on ewes that did have bad feet with fairly good success, although as they have only just had their second jab it is early days. At this time of year Harvest takes precedence. Weaning is on the ‘to do’ list, as is fly repellant cover for the ewes.

Sheep handling. Photo Nigel Akehurst

Yesterday was ‘Wet rescue Monday’ not related to the weather. Two of our animals developed an affinity for water. Firstly a large lamb somehow got itself across to the other side of the stream. It is amazing how sheep conveniently forget how they got out and the return journey never runs smoothly. The lamb was desperate to get back with his mates, in panic mode it flung itself into a tributary to Hugglets stream. Which is 1 metre or less wide, 2 metres deep, with vertical sides to the banks, it contains varying amounts of water according to rainfall. Much of it is hidden by brambles and bracken. ‘SPLASH’ the lamb disappeared from sight and the only way to get it out was to join it. One in, one out, I now no longer need to go weight lifting at the gym and Fred has developed webbed feet. We are both sporting bramble scratches and the sheep is unrepentant. Secondly, Later on the same day, I found a cow in a dyke requiring tractor assistance.

I am reluctant to get sheep into market as prices for fat lamb are soul destroying, and our bank manager looks worried. I would cry if I thought it’d help, realistically it won’t, so we are just getting on with work! Us Farmers are a hardy resilient bunch, and most livestock market goers are still jovial, clinging to the knowledge that the population is growing and everyone needs to eat. The supermarkets are flexing their muscles, by importing meat just when our lambs are coming ready. On the shelves in Asda today there were many New Zealand legs of lamb, some Australian lamb meat, and very few packets of British lamb chops. Although the producers are receiving approx £30 a lamb less, there is little reduction on shelf price. I’m upset that the consumer is not benefitting from our premium products at bargain prices, why not? someone is profiteering and it is doing our industry no favours.

I was astounded to read in the Farmers Weekly (7/8/2015) John Vipond (sheep specialist) advocates breeding from cull ewes this season rather than selling them, in order to improve farm productivity. As a lowly shepherd I won’t be following his advise. Cull ewes are sold for very sound reasons, ie if you bred from them, I would guarantee mega aggravation. Also if there is global over supply of lamb, ramping up numbers will only exacerbate poor prices.

I will have to come up with some alternative ways to increase returns from sheep. Last year I thoroughly enjoyed attending the Sheep South event and miss the lack of it this year as I have not the time or inclination to travel miles. Whilst there, with the intention of supporting sheep products, I splashed out on a woollen duvet set. I thought it expensive at the time. But I have no regrets and totally recommend woollen-bedding products, as money well spent. Cool in summer and warm in winter, brilliant.

King Lear with sheep. Photo Missouri Williams

One of the most innovative ways of making money from sheep, has to be the show King Lear with Sheep. The cast of nine sheep, decked out in costumes, act out their parts admirably. This show is currently showing at The Courtyard Theatre in London throughout August and September. Individual tickets for the 150 seat theatre is £10 each but don’t get too excited, the performances are fully booked. Alas, I think I missed a trick. Despite having some good looking lambs, mine can not compete with such returns.

The Sheep Show
The Sheep Show. Photo Nigel Akehurst

The sheep show demonstrates yet more inspirational ways of deriving money from sheep. A live stage show attending agricultural events that does an amazing job of educating the public about sheep and wool. It introduces nine different breeds in a humorous and informative way. They also do corporate entertainment, ‘shearing sheep’ and ‘sheep racing,’ which is hilarious. My sheep will have to raise their game and I shall put on my ‘thinking cap’. It’s an interesting alternative to sports events but I must admit I do love these kinds of events when they’re organised by https://www.dtbsportsandevents.com/events/Wimbledon. But for now, I’ll enjoy the sheep.