The first monthly shepherd’s diary instalment from Michael Harding, a young sheep and cattle farmer based in East Sussex..
Happy New Year to you all. I hope that you have all recovered from the excesses of the festive season and are ready to take on all the challenges that 2016 brings. One challenge for me this year is to take over this column from the multi-talented Monica Akehurst, I doubt that I can be as entertaining and informative as her but I am ready and willing to give it a go!
Before going any further I had better introduce myself and present my credentials. I am 34 (but feel a lot older after a day spent dagging ewes) and farm sheep and cattle on 100 acres of ground near Rushlake Green. The sheep are mostly Romneys, with a small flock of Jacobs and some cross-breeds that resulted from an energetic and high-jumping Jacob Ram. I must confess that I have only been farming for three years so am a complete novice as far as sheep go, not ideal when I am supposed to be writing a Shepherds Diary for readers who are all a lot more knowledgeable and experienced than me! So please bear with me as I jot down a few rambling thoughts about sheep and shepherding.
As we move into January the days may be getting gradually longer again, but the grass is getting rapidly shorter, and the Sussex clay is getting claggier. I still have a few store lambs lurking around, they seem to spend the majority of their time tangling themselves up in brambles, a sure sign that my hedges need trimming. I sent the majority of my stores off to Hailsham market just before Christmas, when the store trade seemed to have picked up compared to the rest of 2015. Lets hope the upward trend continues.
I also sent a few lambs off to Tottingworth abbatoir in December, so my freezer is well stocked with joints of lamb, although it is remarkable how quickly a family of four (along with assorted friends and relations) can get through a whole lamb! I have been taking advantage of the frost free ground to get a lot of much needed fencing done, and there is nothing like getting back into a farmhouse kitchen and warming up by an Aga after a hard days work outside. Even better is when you know that there is a leg of lamb roasting in the Aga, and even better still is when it is a roast from one of your own lambs.
I know many people have made New Years Resolutions to get fit and healthy in 2016. There has been a lot of talk in the media about the health and environmental problems associated with eating red meat, but I hope that these irresponsible and misleading headlines have not encouraged too many people to become vegetarian. What these journalists fail to realise is that there is a world of difference between a Danish pig or American steer, kept in a stall or feedlot, pumped full of hormones and fed on soya, and an English sheep (or bullock) primarily kept outside and fed mainly on grass or root crops. The British public, including journalists and politicians, need to get out into the countryside and see the great production systems and high welfare conditions that UK farmers practise.
So my resolution for 2016 is to pay more attention to where my food comes from, and where possible to buy British and to buy local, and to encourage others to do the same.