Flocks of sheep are made up of the breeding ewes and their lambs.
Rams are kept separate until tupping time and we usually keep three
or four of each breed. Lambs are kept in their own flock after they
There are two flocks at Shabden Park Farm. The first flock consists
of North Country Mules. They have speckled heads and legs and long
wool. Mules are a generally hardier breed which are prolific lambers
with a naturally good mothering ability. These ewes are put to Suffolk
rams and lamb at a traditional time around April, to coincide with
the spring growth of grass, producing the Suffolk x Mule breed.
The Suffolk x Mule ewe lambs are retained for breeding and the wethers
(or male lambs) are traditionally reared and sold through our Back
to Nature Farm Shop
The second flock is made up of the Suffolk x Mule
ewes which we retain from the spring lambing each year. These have
a black head and legs and short wool. These are put to Charollais
rams to produce a heavy new season lamb. This flock is housed from
early December and lamb mid to late January, where they are kept
indoors until such time as there is sufficient grass growth to sustain
the flock outside.
The ewes first lamb when they are two years old, and stay on the
farm until such time as they naturally lose their teeth, at around
eight or nine. Flock mortality is around 3% per year, from various
reasons, including dog attacks and illness at lambing time.
We operate a 'closed flock system'. This means
we breed our own replacements except for buying in a few North Country
Mule ewes to replace the older ones. This gives us a healthier flock,
and good biosecurity, minimising the risk of bringing in disease
The two different breeds are easily distinguishable as you walk
or drive through the farm.
The start of the shepherd's year is the autumn,
when the days shorten and the ewes begin their seasons. This is
when the ewes are prepared for tupping (introducing the ram). The
flock receives their biannual vaccinations and worming, and are
crutched (shorn around the tail to avoid flies laying eggs on the
dirty wool) and have their feet inspected and treated as necessary.
They are then put on the best grass for flushing (improvement in
The gestation period of a sheep is approximately 147 days or 5 months,
so we plan our lambing time and work back to determine when we introduce
the rams. As a rough guide, introducing the ram on Bonfire Night,
gives us lambs on April Fools Day.
|From tupping to lambing, it is essential
that the ewes are kept stress-free as they easily absorb the early
foetus or abort their lambs later on. Even dogs making the sheep run
can cause this to occur. This is why sheepdogs move the flock from
a distance and are under a very high degree of control by the shepherd.
Sheepdogs are trained on non-breeding sheep for this reason.
As the lambs grow inside the ewes, body condition reduces and they
receive silage or hay as the grass deteriorates in quantity and quality
with the first frosts. The final six weeks of gestation accounts for
60% of the lamb growth and it is at this time that a high protein
concentrate is fed. This is made up of non-GM cereals such as wheat,
barley and beans, vitamins and minerals, and soya or sunflower. The
ewes are ultrasound-scanned so that those with single lambs, twins
and triplets are identified and grouped. These are then fed the correct
Products from sheep
The sheep assist in the ongoing restoration of the natural chalk
downland in the Shabden valley. Sheep are an excellent grazing
animal for conservation as they graze the grass plant at a length
which encourages fresh growth and tillering. This allows wildflowers
to grow up unhindered as can be seen by the species-rich sward
in the valley. Their manure also provides fertility for the natural
herbs and grasses. Because of this, they have been known as 'the
Meat is not the only product which the sheep provide. We shear
all the sheep on the farm in May/June and the wool goes to the
Wool Marketing Board. Each sheep produces approximately 1-1.5kg
of wool, worth £1 to £1.50. The British Wool Marketing
Board grade and sell wool from farms all over the UK. Wool from
our sheep probably goes to carpet manufacturers.
Dogs in the countryside
Many people enjoy exercising their dogs in the
countryside, but it is vital that dog owners understand the damage
that their pet can do to livestock and wildlife, often unwittingly.
Off the lead, dogs can pose a threat to livestock and simply causing
in-lamb ewes to run can create problems such as absorption of the
foetus and difficulties during lambing such as malpresentations.
Uncontrolled dogs amongst livestock can do a large amount of damage
in a very short time. In January and March 2004, we experienced
two dog attacks on the Suffolk x Mule ewes - one only two weeks
before lambing when the ewes were very heavy in-lamb. Not only traumatic
to the the ewes themselves, caring for these sheep after an attack
is extremely upsetting. A dog attack is costly to the livelihood
of a livestock farmer. We estimate that the two dog attacks in 2004,
and the repercussions from them, cost around £4000 in treatments,
lambing difficulties, poorly and late finishing lambs and difficulties
getting the ewes in-lamb again.
Dogs off the lead can cause damage to wildlife, disturbing ground-nesting
birds who may not return to the nest and chasing deer. Even friendly,
domesticated dogs sniffing around an area are actually exercising
their hunting instincts.
As well as being unpleasant, dog
faeces can cause infections to other wildlife and to humans, and
the problem doesn't go away the longer the faeces is left. Toxocariass
can cause blindness, especially in children and dog owners should
always clean up after their dogs and dispose of the mess responsibly.
It is also important to make sure that dogs are wormed regularly
to avoid infecting wildlife and livestock.
It is not acceptable to bring a dog into the countryside to avoid
having to clean up after it.
At Shabden Park Farm, we ask that all
dogs are kept on a lead at all times to help us maintain the countryside
that is so enjoyable to walk through, and to clean up and take away
your dog's faeces.