It’s been a hard spring for sheep farmers so far with more than 25,000 animals found dead in the snow. My parents’ 45 acre farm in Cornwall has, by comparison, had a much less tough time. But, it’s been very cold, the grass still isn’t growing and my dad says that in his 60 years of farming he’s see nothing like it.
He’s lambed 35 ewes and has 60 healthy lambs with no sign of Schmallenberg or twin lamb disease and he lost a total of five. The flock is made up of 20 Charolais and Charolais Dorset Horn cross, with the rest rare breed Cornwall and Devon Longwools, which have the most amazing woolly coats, meaning they are bred to withstand the cold (although it’s a different matter in the wet!) Below is a picture of dad aged 19 at the Royal Show in Cambridge 1961 with a prize-winning Devon and Cornwall yearling ewe:
“This past month has been like February – I’ve never see the grass so late growing as it is this year,” he tells me. The grass normally starts growing well by the middle of March in Cornwall and yet here we are a week into April and nothing’s doing, in fact he describes the grass as being almost blue in colour.
Dad’s been strip-grazing the sheep on ryegrass and planted two acres of ‘hungry gap’ kale, a type of winter fodder that flowers very late. But, he’s got only enough kale left for one week, so the hope is that the grass starts growing sharpish. This winter the outlay on feed has been far more than usual: lambs pellets, rolled barley and Lifeline buckets.
He puts the health of his lambs this year down to these Lifeline supplement buckets, which he started feeding the pregnant ewes last November. They provide the sheep with all the trace elements and vitamins they need along with a healthy dose of molasses. “I’ve used more of them this winter than any other year; they’ve been taking them like snuff.”
He says that years ago when there was more paid labour on farms they grew plenty of winter fodder to see the sheep through the winter. “We used to make a lot more provision for the winter than we do now, growing crops like swedes, mangelwurzels and flat bowl cabbages.”
I’ve used more of the Lifeline supplement buckets this winter than in any other year – the ewes have been taking them like snuff!
Sheep prices on the up
The good news for livestock farmers in Cornwall is that prices for sheep and cattle in Truro market are up. Last week dad says lambs were selling for £115, up from a low of £75 in February. Beef prices, meanwhile, are “extremely good”. Dad puts both down to the horsemeat scandal, saying that butchers are buying more meat and at better prices. The lack of fresh spring grass also means there aren’t too many lambs at market.
Earlier in the year prices were low because of a combination of unfinished British lamb thanks to the wet autumn and an oversupply of New Zealand lamb in the market, he explains.
All in all, the farm has had a lucky escape from the terrible weather conditions visited on other farmers further north. Even on the coldest nights, dad said he couldn’t complain when you looked at what was happening to them. Hopes are that those farmers will get the support they need and that both sheep prices and flocks will stay healthy.