Well for me lambing is done for another year, with the last ewe lambing yesterday (19 March). Typical sheep, no lambing action for the preceding nine days the old girl who simply hung on as long as she possibly could. Who said sheep are awkward? But it was a valuable lesson and a reminder to be a bit sharper pulling the rams out this coming autumn. The end of lambing is a milestone in the year and a bit of a relief, but is always tinged with a degree of sadness as it marks the end of what is, to me at least, a rather special time. The day that I do not feel that special something on seeing a new born lamb arrive into the world will be the day that I give up my sheep.
Lambing 2019 will not feature as one of the best I’ve ever had. In fact, in terms of percentage the worst I have had in 32 years, falling short of the normal 200% ish, but I know of other producers lambing at the about the same time who have fared significantly worse with big drops in performance, a situation, however that seems to be improving as time goes on. I suspect a lot of this was due to the negative impact that the very hot weather of last summer had on sperm production and ram performance. That said it was probably one of the easiest and relaxed lambing seasons I have experienced for several years, helped in no small part by the weather, but it has not been without it’s ups and downs.
Lamb weights have been very good, probably averaging a good 0.5kg heavier than last year, even after a tighter feeding regime this year, due, most likely to the effect of the very mild winter and grass availability. Heavier lambs did bring a few additional lambing difficulties, but in general nothing that was too difficult to deal with, apart from one C-section, (only the second in 32 years) but that did result in two good, strong, ram lambs, which will help to offset the cost.
The real plus has been milk. The ewes have lambed down absolutely full of milk and their progeny are growing away incredibly well, my first born lamb, sadly only a single Suffolk cross, nicknamed “Jumbo”, weighed in at 6.75kg at birth and an astounding 14.2kg by two weeks, a live-weight gain of 532 grams per day, testament to the milkiness of his Lleyn mum. All we require now is for grass growth to pick up, the warm spell (technically a heat wave) a couple of weeks ago set things moving apace but, unfortunately, last week’s cold, wet weather has slowed growth down a bit, it is however still only March and there is plenty of time for the situation to improve, spring (I hope) is on the way.
Talking about improving situations, and it is something that I thought would only need a passing mention this month; the Brexit situation simply gets worse, I did think by now we would have some sort of decision but the situation is just as much in the air as it has been for months, years even, the worst thing for planning any business is uncertainty.
Amazingly, with all the disruption that we have seen to transport infrastructure in Kent, in supposed preparedness for a hard Brexit, the contraflow system on the M20, the imagined solution to transport disruption as a result of increased customs controls etc was still not operational last week when the weather caused significant problems to freight crossing the Channel. Once again we had to resort to “operation stack”.
Furthermore, it appears that we can’t even get our proposed tariff rates correct, according to EU Agricultural Commissioner, Philp Hogan “UK tariff proposals for a no-deal Brexit are illegal and raise the prospect of immediate dispute between Britain and the World Trade Organisation once London leaves the EU,” adding that “the reality is that you can ignore 99% of the howling in Westminster, which to be perfectly honest is becoming an embarrassment at this point and a stain on the UK’s standing in the world.” I see his point, can you really argue with that?
On a rather more sombre note, I know that a lot of UK sheep producers will identify and have a high degree of empathy with New Zealand, and will be greatly saddened by the recent terrible events in Christchurch. The response of the New Zealand public and Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, in particular (who incidentally worked at one time as a policy adviser in the UK) was honourable and respectful and a credit to New Zealand, although I’m sure it does, as a country, have it’s own issues with migration.
I do wonder if a comparable event in the UK would generate a similar response, sadly I suspect not. I fear that as a nation we have woefully drifted into endemic Islamaphobia. I know there are sheep producers who will not deal with a local halal abattoir, not because they think that they do not pre-stun (which they do), they probably haven’t even asked the question, but due to inherent prejudice. We are all free to sell our lambs wherever we choose, but those decisions should be informed decisions.
Muslims in the UK amount to about 5% of the population, but as a group they do account for approximately 20% of domestic lamb and sheep-meat consumption. Not a market that we, as an industry, can afford to ignore and certainly not for reasons of bigotry. I have seen halal slaughter with and without pre-stunning, in the UK, on the continent and in the Middle East and intrinsically I have no issues with halal slaughter. I do however have an issue with no pre-stunning, but this only applies to about 20% of UK halal slaughtering. I also agree that we should work together, to seek an end to this practice, for both halal and shechita slaughter. I can hear now dozens of people asking “what on earth is shechita?” and that says it all really; as an industry there is room for a little soul searching.
Incidentally in order to maximise opportunities in a global sheep market, the majority of New Zealand lamb will be pre-stunned, but halal slaughtered.