Saturday, 2 November 2013

Lambs...Going, Going, Gone!

Back in the springtime, if anyone can remember that, four ragtag little lambs arrived on the farm. They were cades, the spares which have to be taken off their mums and hand-fed. One had a cough, one had a limp, one had a long tail.
But we looked after them and they enjoyed their time here and prospered on the lush grass.

They grew bigger and bigger and bigger, tastier and tastier and tastier!
And all the while they took care of a major headache for me, keeping the grass down and enriching it at the same time. They kept me company too when I needed some quiet time away from it all.

By the time they went, I'd got things well enough organised that I could strip graze them right up to the end of the land. In fact their last few weeks were planned to give the grass one last cut before the winter. A strip of electric fence runs right to the end of the land and I can segregate areas off this, gradually moving the sheep up and down the land. Not only does this mean that they get fresh grass every week or so, but it ensures that there won't be a build up of worms on the land either.

A rural view through the patio doors.

For the last few days the sheep were moved onto the back lawn, with the flowers and herbs carefully fenced off. What I didn't tell them was that the fence here was never connected to the mains. But they have learned to respect the fence, so much so that they won't even cross it when I lay it down on the ground to move it.
Not, that is, unless I have just stubbed my toe so badly that I can't even get my foot inside a shoe. Then, and only then, they decide to jump over and race excitedly away, up to the dyke, along a bit and back into the farmer's field next door! I had to hobble through long grass and over another dyke to round them up, not once but twice!

Anyway, back to the present. Last Sunday, before the Smallholders Club Harvest Lunch, the sheep were due to go on their final journey. I booked this in a couple of months ago. There's always a bit of guesswork involved in when they go off. The idea is that it coincides with when the grass stops growing and becomes less nutritious. As it was this year I could probably have kept them a while longer, but they had grown to pretty much their maximum weight.
The only money we have ever spent on feeding the sheep was one bag of pellet food and the only reason for this is that, being hand-reared, they blindly follow the bucket wherever they are led. And on Sunday that was straight into the livestock trailer. At the other end they followed the bucket straight off the trailer and straight into their waiting pen.
Compared to pigs, sheep are a delight to move.
I had managed to dig out the movement forms (quadruplicate!!!!) the day before. Unlike with pigs, where it's all up to date and online, you still have to press very hard on sheep movement forms to get down to the fourth carbon copy. 

And that was that until Thursday when I picked them up from Tan Rose, my butchers in Parson Drove, all boxed up and ready for the eight customers who'd bought half each.
Now half a lamb is nowhere near as much as half a pig. All that wool is most deceptive. I had told customers to expect about 10kg each, but in the end it was slightly under this so I dropped the price to reflect this. Although it doesn't look like an awful lot of meat for 65 quid, it still works out very reasonable compared to supermarket prices. Meat is not cheap these days, at least not if it has been humanely and responsibly reared.
Boxes of lamb waiting for their lucky customers
And there's the advantage of keeping sheep. They don't require a lot of input, as long as you have enough grassland for them, they're easy to handle and to fence in, and you can actually bring them in at cheaper than supermarket prices (with a small profit) without making any compromises over their care.
For that reason, we're really hoping to keep a few more next year.
If any of you are interested, for a £20 deposit before February I will hold the price of half a lamb next year. You can look forward to a box full of succulently juicy lamb. The advantage for me is that I should, hopefully, be able to buy in enough lambs to keep my grass well managed in the knowledge that they will have somewhere to go at the end of the year.
And here's what you'll get.

What you get for your money:
One leg, cut into two joints, two shoulder joints, three or four bags of delicious chops,
a belly roll, a couple of other bits and pieces and a bag of bones for the dog.
Also a share of the offal - liver, heart, kidney, lungs.

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