Since returning from my lambing job in Macclesfield, I’ve been very lucky to be kept busy with plenty of contract work off the farm.
Working with, and for, other farmers is a great way to experience new breeds and different farming systems, and my most recent experiences working have been a real eye opener!
Iona and I have spent the last week or so up in the Galloway Hills working with Viewfield Romneys to help treat their fantastic flock of NZ Romney ewes and lambs to prevent worm and fly problems.
I first visited the Maxwells in January of last year, not long after deciding to set up a flock of my own, so had seen their sheep and some of their set up previously, but actually experiencing their system first hand was a totally different kettle of fish.
Drawing on their own experiences of, and family ties to, New Zealand, Marcus and Kate operate a Kiwi inspired system focusing heavily on efficiency, ensuring they can enjoy life rather than have it totally dominated by farming, something we see all too often here in the UK.
With the flock spread across thousands of acres of Galloway hill farmland, bringing in the sheep for treatment is simply not practical. Where we currently bring the sheep to our handling system here at home, the Maxwells take their system to the sheep!
Prior to last week, I had been contemplating investigating mobile yards to help build and improve my contract shepherding business, so being able to spend a week working with one was great. Taking the yard to the sheep saves so much time, and we were hurtling through field after field in next to no time.
The difference was really highlighted when, after a week of working with a mobile yard, we had to bring in our own ewes and lambs for weighing and worming. A job that would have taken between 30 minutes to an hour (albeit with a couple of extra hands) up in New Galloway, took Iona and I almost half a day!
We hear so much about the importance of efficiency in farming, and I like to think that I’m very modern and forward thinking (or at least attempt to be) in my approach to our sheep enterprise, but it’s often not until you experience different systems and methods that you realise how inefficient your own way of doing things actually is!
Spending so much time on such a small and simple job after experiencing working a mobile yard was really frustrating for the both of us. While we are growing the flock, we have to fit sheep work at home around our other work to support ourselves (contract work and writing for me, PR and social media for Iona), so spending that much time on a small job was such an eye opener. That half a day could have been spent doing other jobs on the farm, or off farm bringing in other income to help support what we are doing at home.
To put it plainly, we realised we were losing money that we couldn’t afford to.
A mobile yard has jumped to the top of the shopping list, and while they are not a cheap bit of kit, I hope that it will be an investment that will not only benefit the farm, but help me to increase my contract shepherding work too.
Experiencing a NZ style system was a real eye opener, and has also made me realise the huge benefit of getting out there and experiencing different ways of farming. I hope to be able to find the time to get out, meet different farmers, and experience different systems not only across the UK, but abroad too…