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Diary of a Sheep Farmer - Tom Wheeler - Part Two

FEBRUARY | DIARY OF A SHEEP FARMER

Here is a further instalment from Tom together with Young Sheep Farmer, Jack (aged 7) who also popped in to give me an update.

I was amazed how much he knew and the fact that he knew how many sheep had been moved, how many taken to market; it was quite astounding really and shows how interested he is about the flock and the farm. If you saw our piece last month, then you will know the background of how Tom came to be a Sheep Farmer.

So, every day without fail, Tom is out checking the ewes and their lambs. This is usually 2 or 3 times per day, with Jack joining him after school. The first lambs arrived in early January and Tom is always monitoring the grass, moving them around so that they can graze and feast on good quality grass. It has been good because it has not been too wet; sheep are fine out in the cold but hate the rain! The ewes will keep their lambs with them until May. Tom tells me that ewes out in the fields don’t generally lamb during the night, but at first light. It’s mid-January and currently Tom has 112 out of 200 to left to lamb. It works out as an average of 10 per day over this period.

Once the lambs have put on weight and are nice and fat, the price lifts but that also reflects the higher price into wholesale and retail. On 2 January (still in the school holidays) Tom and Jack left very early and took 140 Hoggets (8-10 month old lambs) to Thame Market. At this time Tom is looking to sell fat lambs and buy in store lambs to finish. This means he will graze them and build up their fat resources so they will be ready to sell on and will command a better price. He will buy in around 600-700 store lambs. To do this he will have sold some of his home bred lambs, hence his trip to Thame. The timing of this all being strategic.

Tom, Jack and Millie are often found setting up electric fencing to ensure the sheep do not stray over the whole field. This is team work and Jack drives the quad about 3 metres in front of Tom, as he puts the fencing posts in. It appears that Jack has mastered this and Millie tags along and helps them both much of the time. Charlotte, while teaching Event riders, is often helping Tom to move sheep while the children are at school.

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Since November, the cattle were brought in during the second week in December, which is about a month later than usual. The grass was still of a good standard for them to feast on. At this time the cattle are wormed for ‘liver fluke’ and the calves clipped …. 3 or 4 lines down their backs to stop them over-heating. …….. And there are always the pigs, who like to nip the back of your legs, if you’re not careful …. Well so Jack tells me!

The early lambing ewes should be finished by the second week in February…… next instalment in the March issue.

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Lizzy Etheridge with Tom Wheeler