The flock grows

So our initial flock of six had now grown to fifteen roaming across the field. Unfortunately one lamb died after getting hung up in a section of fencing - even checking the flock several times a day can't prevent every untoward thing from occurring.

As summer progressed our thoughts turned to next year's lambing and our plans to expand the flock further. Serendipitously the suppliers of our first sheep then advertised that they had a further group of shearlings for sale. We had been thinking of adding an additional six ewes but as they had seven available it seemed to be the right thing to take the group and we quickly agreed the purchase.

They were collected in late July and after a quarantine period and check for worms (the faecal egg counts had been zero in all our sheep) they went out in the field to join the rest of the flock in August.

By the end of May it was time to be thinking about shearing. Temperatures were rising and the sheep were already looking hot on the warmer days.

We blade shear our sheep using a pair of extremely sharp and rather fearsome looking hand shears. Blade shearing is quieter than using electric cutters and doesn't require power out in the field. It also leaves more wool on the sheep, which lessens the thermal shock that comes from losing their big insulating coat all at once.

We must have done a good job as our farmer neighbour commented that they were looking good one evening in the local pub. He was especially impressed with how they had turned out when he found out we had hand sheared them ourselves too. Praise indeed!

Finding a tup

The next job was to find a tup and as summer progressed we started to see adverts for rams for sale. One shearling attracted us - he was from a completely unrelated blood line than our ewes, had done well at a show (which tells you that an expert judge hadn't found any major faults with things like feet and testicles), and wasn't too far away. So a road trip to Shropshire was called for and we came home with Carrcross Sonchus in the trailer. Since then he has been simply referred to as Big Boy by all the neighbours, a nickname that has stuck.

He settled in well in a pen adjacent to our three wethers although he clearly felt the need to assert his dominance as he broke through the barrier to get into the larger area where they were. After an otherwise trouble-free quarantine they went out in the field together - separated from the ewes by three stock fences and a hedgerow just to be sure he couldn't get to them!

Sponging and tupping

With a small flock and full-time jobs lambing can be difficult. Following our experience of a really compact lambing window we decided to sponge the ewes again. Sponges allow you to synchronise the time that the ewes come in to season, which should also therefore synchronise their lambing dates.

So instead of them being distributed randomly over a 17-day (or several 17-day) period they are tighter together and more predictable. This allows us to book leave from work and be around to deal with any issues promptly.

By staggering the removal of the sponges we also made sure we weren't going to overwork the tup meaning he missed some and our lambing would be over several cycles.

When the day finally came for the tup to meet the ewes we managed to catch him and apply raddle paste - which rubs off on the ewes as they are served giving a visual guide to his progress - separate the five ewe lambs and lead the ewes down the track to the field where he was waiting. Over the next three days he seemed to cover all the ewes, apart perhaps from the one we hadn't been able to sponge and the one whose sponge had fallen out. Although he evaded all attempts to capture him to re-apply a different colour raddle that would tell us if he served any again (meaning they had come back into season because they weren't pregnant from the first time) it didn't look like there was any repeat tupping going on, hopefully meaning all thirteen ewes were pregnant.

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