My first ever blog post
By guest, Jul 18 2017 12:59PM
I have never written a blog and I always wonder who reads them! But I'm giving it a go. Part of me wants to back date this and pretend I've been writing it for 2 years but that would be gruelling for both of us.
I am trying to make my website look better. I just noticed 3700 people have looked at my website which is unbelievable! I'd better make it worth looking at!
So let's bring you up to speed.
At this present moment on the farm I have 48 Romney ewes and 4 Black Welsh Mountain ewes. Between them they have 22 Romney X Southdown wether lambs, 24 Romney X Southdown ewe lambs, 9 Romney ewe lambs that will remain in the flock, 5 Romney ram lambs that will hopefully be sold as rams, 3 Romney X Black Welsh Mountain ewe lambs that will stay in the flock and 1 Romney X Black Welsh Mountain that we aren't sure what to do with! We also have 1 Southdown ram called Bunting and 1 Romney ram called Reg.
I am married to Alex who is a musician and has kindly uprooted his life in London to live in Sussex and spend much of his spare time being my assistant shepherd. I have 2 working collies; mother and daughter, Dot and Rizzo. And we have a large, lazy cat called Jake.
I turned 40 last year. I started working with sheep when I was 18, helping out at lambing time at Offham Farm. I then went to Sparsholt College to study Agriculture and then worked on sheep farms as well as a few other jobs until I was 30 when I went to Northumberland for 9 months to do the Sheep Course at Kirkley Hall. It was a great experience mainly to meet lots of shepherds and learn more about sheepdog handling. I also got a few certificates I didn't have before which was good. I can drive a forklift if I want :-D I came out of that course with a job in Sussex on a Romney farm with 3000 breeding ewes. It was brilliant experience and jolly hard work. I learned about the wonderful qualities of the Romney sheep and no nonsense farming.
I then went on to work on the Ashdown Forest, conservation grazing with Hebridean sheep and then on to a pedigree Texel farm which concentrated predominantly on breeding high quality rams.
On all these sheep farms my title was Under Shepherd. On the farms I worked on in my 20's I would call myself a Stock Person. Some of these were pig, dairy or beef farms so that was fair enough but when I was working with sheep I couldn't bring myself to say I was a shepherd because I held shepherds in such high esteem. It still sticks in my throat now, especially as I have such a tiny flock, but I'm proud of all the hours of slog I've put in to learn the skills I've gathered, like anyone at 40.
So, anyway, I decided I wanted to be in charge of my own sheep. I couldn't find it in myself to push to be head shepherd for someone else's sheep. So I took the plunge and bought 40 sheep from Kent. I was terrified. I borrowed about 2/3 of the money from my Dad which hopefully he'll get back one day :-/ and my Aunt and Uncle said I could use their farm. It had been sat empty for a couple of years since they'd rented it out to another shepherd.
About 2 months before my lambing I did my back in so unpleasantly that I couldn't do the jobs I was doing for other people any more. It was a massive worry but my chiropractor and I managed to get me reasonably straight before the first of my own sheep lambed. We borrowed 2 Southdown rams from Offham Farm in Autumn 2015 and lambed the ewes outside in May 2016. Alex and I got married in the August 2016 which was magical. We had 60 lambs to sell and sold the majority before Christmas to local customers who were all incredibly complimentary about the quality. The rest of the lambs stayed till the following year to be sold as hogget, a 1-2 year old sheep. 10 of the best Romneys were tupped in December by our new Romney ram Reg as well as the 4 Black Welsh Mountain ewes that I rashly won in an auction at the Seven Sisters Sheep Centre closing down sale. The rest of the ewes were tupped by 2 borrowed Southdown rams again, including 10 new tegs that we bought from another farm in Kent. Lambing 2017 in May was much easier than 2016. But we had much fewer lambs born than the year before. Apparently lots of sheep farms also experienced a low lambing percentage too.
I had knitting yarn made out of some of the fleeces which came back utterly gorgeous. So I'm learning about knitting and wool in order to market it, understand it, properly appreciate it and sell it.
This is exhausting! Is anyone still reading this?
We're growing the flock quite slowly as that's the pace I operate. And I do part time and temporary jobs locally to fill the gaps between busy and quite periods. My back holds up although my hips are a bit dodgy now :-/ and I still see the chiroprator and am careful about how many sheep I turn over in one go. I had to pay a shearer which was frustrating as I'd planned to shear them myself, and bought a shearing machine! Oh well...
Animal welfare and wildlife conservation have always been so important to me. As has supporting local farming and business. I keep these at the centre of my business and I will stick to my guns to maintain them. The lambs are not rushed to finish, they are ready when they are ready and not creep fed. The ewes are extensively grazed on unfertilized, chemical free, wildlife rich grass. I sell all the meat locally and directly to my customers and I use the closest abattoir, butcher and mill for the wool that I can, none of them over 40 minutes away.
Right that's enough!! You're all caught up and I'm signing off. I hope you didn't have to scroll too much. Thanks for reading xx
This is such an interesting read Susanna. As we've known each other for most of our adult lives and its been great to see your skills develop and your journey from stock person to shepherd. You have earned the title and I'm sure others, like myself, hold you in high esteem too! I'm currently knitting a shawl with your beautiful yarn and I can't wait to finish it so I can show it off.
I met Susanna the other week at yet another amazing time of her life.
To read your blog was brill & Ive told my hubby all about you, well what I know anyway !! We love your passion for your flock & Im greedy to know so much more.
Ive been inspired by your story & now cant wait to start our own very small journey. Hope we can buy some of your lamb this year.
Good luck with your future life ahead of you. xx