Go to the interactive farming year on our Heritage Meats web site.
Gathering and tip time
The ewes are gathered from their summer grazing and given a once over before being turned on to good pasture and meadow. The ewes thrive in this comparatively ‘good going’ and this means that they are more likely to conceive when it is time to be put to the tup (male sheep).
Tup sales are in October and are an important part of the farming year, tups are selected on their breed characteristics and past performance, and good tups can cost thousands of pounds!
Some hill sheep will be ‘tupped pure’ (with the same breed as themselves) or put to other specific breeds in order to produce more breeding replacements and others may be crossed with a ‘down-land’ tup in order to produce lambs that will make better ‘fat’ lambs for meat.
Swaledale and other horned hill breeds are usually put to the tup as ’shearlings’ (two years old) but Herdwicks are usually held back another year so as not to stunt their growth, on some farms these ‘twinters’ have to be ‘clouted’ to prevent them being tupped, this involves sewing a ‘clout’ (piece of cloth) into the wool over the rear of the ewe.
When the tups are ‘loosed’ it is common to cover the chest of the tup with ‘raddle’ oil based paint), the colour of the raddle is changed every week or ten days for the period of tupping. This system allows the farmer to see that all the sheep have been tupped, then in lambing time each colour group can be brought in to the closest pasture, depending on the week they are due to lamb to be monitored more closely and fed appropriately.
During winter sheep not only have to keep themselves warm but will need extra energy to sustain their pregnancy too. This usually means feeding them through the later winter months and early spring. Feed can be given in a number of ways and will depend on different circumstances, extra roughage in the form of hay or silage is likely and many farmers use nutrient blocks or molasses enriched with other concentrates and minerals.
Scanning may be undertaken as lambing time approaches, this allows the farmer to split the groups of sheep yet again, depending on how many lambs they are carrying, the sheep having twins can then be given more nutrients and the ‘geld’ ewes (not in lamb) will be separated.
This is the busiest and most trying time of year in the sheep calendar, the date of lambing is set to allow time for the commencement of better weather and therefore at least some grass growth on the in-bye land (lower more productive land usually near the farmstead).
Ewes need to be watched carefully as many will need assistance whilst giving birth, especially young sheep lambing for the first time. Once the lambs are born there are still many problems to overcome, lambs can easily become hypothermic in wet and cold weather, sheep may not produce enough milk or may loose their lambs and of course there are many diseases that affect young lambs and new mothers.
Clipping and Dipping
All through the year there are routines like dosing, castrating, tailing, foot trimming, tagging and marking to mention a few, but during summer are two very important main gathers- clipping and dipping.
Clipping should be done late enough to ensure any cold weather spells have passed, the sheep are then brought in and their fleeces are sheared either by electric clippers or hand shears. This is done to prevent the sheep overheating, the skin will become sweaty and sore which attracts parasites including maggot fly, an un-sheared sheep is also more likely to become ‘rigged’ (stuck on its back) or stuck in undergrowth etc.
When the new coat has had time to grow a little the sheep can then be dipped, this involves submerging them in a dilute chemical to kill parasites and will then act as a fly repellent for some time afterwards.
The meadows are ‘closed’ to grazing after lambing time when the sheep and lambs can be moved back into the pastures and on to the fells. Fertiliser or manure may be applied to the meadows and they are left alone to grow a crop of grass. When this crop is ready, anytime from June to August, a few fine dry days are needed to ’make hay’ the grass is cut and then turned over and over until dried, when ready the hay is made into bales and brought into the barns and lofts for storage until it is needed for feeding to the animals through the winter months.
Hay is very difficult to make successfully in Lakeland due to the high rainfall, if hay is baled when damp or not properly dried it ‘goes off’ and occasionally even sets itself alight! Modern farming means that if hay can not be made, the grass can be wrapped in plastic and made into silage instead.
Spaining and sales
‘ Spaining’ is the when the sheep and lambs are separated in late summer/early autumn, by then the ewes have stopped allowing the lambs to feed suckle them and they are on a diet of grass.
Once the lambs are weaned they will then be separated into groups, some of the ‘gimmers’ (young females) will be kept to be raised as replacements for the flock or sold as breeding sheep and the ‘wethers’ (young castrated males) will be put on to good going to be fattened for market.
The sheep are turned back to the pastures and fells until it is time to gather for tip time.