A couple of weeks ago we lambed our Leicesters and were in a busy period of calving, the sun was shining and it really felt like spring. Lambs were starting to fill the fields further down the valley.
There is nothing like it to put a spring in your step after the long winter, but it is dangerous to get too far ahead of yourself in Cumbria, and now we are back to the cold and wet, with snow over the higher ground.
I sometimes think we don’t truly get into spring until May.
March is always busy, as calving tends to use up a disproportionate amount of my time. Juggling cows in and out of calving pens when space and straw are at a premium is not easy, but well worth it if you can get through the bulk of it before lambing starts.
Last year we had 90 per cent of our cows calved before lambing at the end of March, but after lame bull issues last year, it looks like we will be lucky to manage that this time, although the next couple of weeks is looking busy, so fingers are crossed.
Swaledale hoggs also come home at the end of February after a winter away on a good dairy farm in the Eden valley. They come back fit and ready for the fells in April, grazing on the first shoots of cotton grass or ‘mossing’ as it is called.
Before they head up there, they are horn-burned with our identification mark and also, more latterly, freeze-branded. The freeze-brand is a step further than what has been traditionally used to identify fell sheep and it is a sad reality that in these modern times we need to resort to such efforts to avert sheep thefts.
Like many in the North Pennines, over the years we have had our fair share of fell sheep lost in such numbers which cannot be explained by them simply wandering off or falling in a hole.
In fact, several farms in the surrounding area would swear it is a problem which has been plaguing their livelihoods for decades. By branding the ewes, we add another ID mark which is harder to remove or alter.
It has been a busy month with the National Sheep Association (NSA) launching its new weekly ‘Breakfast Club’ webinars, which, since the end of January, have covered a range of subjects. International trade, farm policy, halal and even gene editing have been on the agenda, with a host of high profile panellists.
It has been a huge success and all webinars can still be viewed on the NSA website. Slots have reduced to the first Wednesday in the month to allow for the time of year, but with so much going on in the world farming, there is plenty to discuss.
Sheep farming is proving itself as a foundation stone of the rural economy with trade being so healthy and, therefore, engagement will continue to be crucial.