Life on the Farm

Sophie Law

In this month’s blog Sophie covers wintering of sheep on her land, calving, tagging and traceability and new AECS.

It’s the week of Christmas and I’m not quite sure how this has happened! But as many of you know, when you have animals, rest and relaxation can be few and far between.  This month, we have begun some house renovations, to allow for more space for baby due in April.  Madness possibly, but it is the last we have planned internally for the farm which is a plus.  This means we have no living room currently, but it also means the rest of the house does have a cosier feel for the winter, as it is a bit smaller.  None the less, work out on the farm is still as busy as ever, so it is a fun job juggling it all. 

As I mentioned last month, during this time we have what we call ‘winterers’ on our fields.  A farmer not far from us keeps his sheep on our land through the winter months, and although there is not much grass growth, there is enough of a bite for the sheep to graze.  The breed of sheep he has is the Scottish Blackface, a very hardy breed often kept on moorland and higher ground. They have a very dense wool which keeps them warm in the crazy Scottish weather and are easily recognised by their black faces and legs, and curled horns.  The females also have a very good mothering instinct which is needed when they are living out on rough terrain.  Scottish Blackface’s have a Breeders’ Association which was formed back in 1901 in Lanark in the West of Scotland.  This is to help encourage the breeding of Blackface sheep and also to help those who have an interest in the breed. There are many breeders throughout the U.K. and some more serious than others, but some pure-breds can be sold for many tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The girls we have on our land are what’s referred to as gimmers.  This means they are just a year old and the tup is out to them to be covered at the moment.  Sheep are in lamb for around 5 months, so this means these girls will be lambing around March/ April time, good timing for the better weather in spring.  The sheep on our land will be taken to a closer field or shed for the farmer for lambing time, letting him keep a closer eye on them for easier management.

We do not have our own sheep on farm, purely because of the time demand and working off farm.  But we do have our own cows calving, and we have just come to the end of calving for our newest batch of cows.  Calving has its own trials to deal with, but thankfully all has been well so far with this lot.  Cows are pregnant for 9 months and once calves are born, just like lambs, babies, pups and many other animals, they need a good feed of colostrum.  Colostrum is the first milk produced by the mother, packed to the gunnels of rich nutrients and antibodies.  Ideally this feed should be taken within the first 1-2 hours of life to have the best chance of absorption, after this time the gut closes off to the antibodies in turn reducing the calves chances of survival significantly.  Calves are amazing, when born they weigh around 40-50kg and will be up on their feet and in for a feed within half an hour.  As we have a suckler herd, our calves stay with their mothers until they are 10 months old and are weaned just before they head off to market.

Once born all calves need to be identified, this is law and if not done will lead to prosecution of the farmer.  The reason behind this is tractability, allowing where they have been and come from to be easily traced.  This is for food so you know where the food on your plate comes from, but also if there was ever to be a disease outbreak, just like the Foot and Mouth outbreak back in 2001.

Identification comes in the form of ear tagging and passports.  Calves must be tagged within 20 days of birth and registered within 27 days, after which the farmer will be sent a passport which will stay with that calf for the rest of its life. 

In advance for next month’s market sales, we have separated last year’s calves born in February-March time from their mothers.  This gives the cows a break as they are due to start calving in February.  The calves naturally begin to wean themselves and need more feeding as they grow so we supplement this with ad-lib silage and a hard feed pellet fed twice a day.  This is, at this point, the majority of their diet so the milk from their mothers is really an added extra. 

Recently we have had the silage sampled by our supplier’s nutritionist which can tell us the protein level of the silage to make sure they are being fed the adequate amount.  It sounds very detailed but it is a very good insight. It makes sure they’re being fed what they need and we aren’t spending too much or not enough on their hard feeding.  It is also a good indicator of our soil and the grass we are growing.

Next month we will have sold our first batch of last year’s calves at the market, so fingers crossed the prices are good!

It was also good hear that the 2022 AECS round (Agri-Environment Climate Scheme) will open on 24th January for applications. This scheme supports conversion to and maintenance of organic land alongside a suite of other measures, including slurry storage, aimed at promoting low carbon farming and protecting the environment so it is well worth checking out (details here). We have been lucky enough in the past to apply to this scheme and were accepted - I'll tell you more about that next month!

So as the year draws to a close I hope you all have a lovely, safe and well Christmas and a very Happy New Year.

As always if there is anything I have covered but you would like more information on, please let us know and I will try and answer any questions you may have. Or if there are any topics you would like me to cover.  Our email address is you can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for regular rural updates.