Thomas Carrick is part of a family-run upland beef and sheep farm in the North Pennines, near Alston. With pure-bred Swaledales to produce Mule lambs, they also run Salers cross cattle with Aberdeen-Angus calves which they finish at home.
I am part of the third generation at High Crossgill and farm alongside my brother Graham and our wives, Kim and Amy respectively.
Dad, Geoffrey, heads the line-up, although he claims to be retired.
Swaledale sheep are the mainstay of the business, which we breed pure and cross with Bluefaced Leicesters to produce Mule lambs.
As I write this we are up to our necks in it, lambing flat out, but benefiting from the best lambing weather I can remember – warm and dry without frost.
Much like last year, it makes things that much easier, however, it definitely teaches you that most of the problems you get at lambing are not weather related. That must be why I am still as tired as ever.
It is an emotional rollercoaster, extreme tiredness coupled with the seemingly never ending problems, which in reality last a couple of hours, then followed by 40 pairs which you barely have to touch other than to mark and marvel at how good or simply average your new tup has done. It’s up and down all the way.
Sheep were sent to try us.
You get the pushy parent who tries to teach its lambs to swim in the stream at a day old – ‘oh dash’. Then you have a Dolly Parton-type with two hungry lambs – ‘golly gosh’. And then the one which doesn’t like her own lambs – ‘is this a joke’?
On a more serious note, we find ourselves in very strange times but, as social distancing for sheep farmers is a precondition at this time of year, we are somewhat isolated from the worst of it all.
I think most of us assumed the coronavirus pandemic was all a fuss about nothing, but as it gets closer to us, the gravity of the situation starts to make us think.
We all know someone who we want to make sure stays free of this virus, so it’ll be just as important as ever that even after silly season ends for us sheep farmers we continue to follow the guidelines.
The National Sheep Association, of which I am currently northern region chairman, has been really proactive on this front, providing lots of information on Covid-19 and what it means for our businesses, from dealing with vet visits and TB testing, to contractors on-farm.
It is going to be a challenge which will rumble on.