My experience of Artificial Insemination in sheep

A few weeks ago I went to help a local farmer Artificially Inseminate (A.I), his flock of pedigree charollais sheep. This was an exciting and intriguing opportunity which was fascinating to watch.

I arrived early to the farm which made time for a good chin wag. The sheep were all penned up in two lots awaiting their date with technology. The sheep were split into two groups as one group would be inseminated using fresh semen and one using frozen semen. The farmer explained that A.I allowed him to have a tight lambing period; as hormones are given to the ewes which make them cycle at the same time, so ewes can be inseminated on the same day, resulting in lambs being born pretty much on the same day. A.I allows semen to be purchased from top class tups which may be out of the farmer’s price range to buy the actual animal, with the added bonus of not having the cost of maintaining that animal. Another key advantage of A.I was also pointed out, which is very clever and important when thinking of diseases which could decimate the sheep population; is that A.I allows the use of semen from a now deceased animal.

The breeding company arrived and proceeded to set-up their gear. It didn’t take them long and they were very efficient. I was very surprised to how such a task could be carried out on farm, as I imagined an immaculate, white room, with masses of technology and light. But no, this advanced technology had been brought to the farm and set up in a normal farm shed. It really did amaze me.  There were three men that came from the breeding company this day. One was a vet, who would be doing the A.I procedure, one was an assistant who would deal with the semen and the other kept the whole job moving and kept the paper work right. The farmer and his father had the strenuous job of loading the sheep onto the crates and I was in-charge of the flow of sheep.

Now these ‘crates’ used to hold the sheep, fascinated me and I would have loved to of pinched it to do sheep’s feet in. The crate was on wheels and was just a metal rectangular frame with curved straps running through the centre. Then at each end were two foot holders with straps for the bottom (below is a badly draw diagram). The sheep were tipped into the crate so they lay on their backs. The feet were secured and then the crate and sheep could be wheeled into position for the vet. Once in position the rectangle frame could be raised so the backend of the sheep pointed towards the sky. This allows the vet to be in a comfortable, level position to A.I the sheep. The sheep never moved, I was very surprised, so in my eyes and ideal contraption for me to do feet in!

good crate 001

The actual process of A.I in sheep is invasive, so it is not done alike a cow through the natural routes, instead two incisions are made above the sheep’s udder. One incision is for a camera and one for the insemination of the semen. The vet was incredibly quick, the process took under 5minutes, it really was mind-boggling. The vet allowed me to look into the camera at one point, seeing the reproductive organs of the sheep and the straw which contained the semen, once in position the semen is pushed out and that’s the job done. Once the sheep had been inseminated, she was tipped out of the crate, and she would wonder off as if nothing had happened.

I was very impressed with the whole process and it would be something I would look into doing if I had a fair few sheep. Yes there is allot of facts and figures, pros and cons to consider but the set-up on farm and the process I saw was very impressive and efficient. The only negative was the look of sheer disappointment from the ram used to produce the fresh semen, romance was officially dead that day!

Annabelle x

ai aheep

#EweTube: Hog Care After Shearing

The hogs are grazed away from the home farm therefore they are branded to allow us to identify that they belong to us. The rented grazing is also a hot spot for flies so we need to use preventative treatments to deter fly strike. This #EweTube shows these tasks being carried out, a quick but necessary and important job.

Annabelle x

It’s been a scorcher!

The weather over the past few weeks has been fantastic! Summer has finally shown face and it’s quite a shock to the system. My wet weather gear I’m glad to say has been shoved to the back of the cupboard and shorts; vest tops, trainers and sunglasses have replaced them.

With the hot weather comes a mad panic to get hay and silage harvested and of course those sheep sheared of their warm thick fleeces. It’s a stressful time normally as we are used to the hot weather only lasting a few days at a time with rain in between. So it’s a panic to get the hay dry enough to bale, and sheep dry enough to shear. This year however, we are very much relaxed as the Sun has graced us with its presence whole heartedly.

But as we are farmers, the golden rule passed down through generations is ; to always complain about the weather! Haha Now I am certainly not complaining about this heat wave but to think that farming is a doddle in the heat is far from untrue, all weather types bring their different problems. So what problems could possibly arise on a sheep farm with this hot weather?

For sheep that have not had their fleece’s removed problems can arise. One issue which can cause death pretty quickly is sheep getting ‘cast’ on their backs. So the sheep will lie down, have a snooze, then become unbalanced and can result in the sheep becoming overturned to her back, with four legs in the air and unable to get to her feet again. Many people mistake ‘cast’ ewes for dead ewes, which isn’t always the case, so if you see a sheep with all fours in the air, don’t just presume she is dead as often they are not. So in the hot weather ‘cast’ ewes are more common as the fleece is heavy, so this needs to be kept an eye out for.

With the grass growth often comes a case of ‘the runs’ with sheep. So the backends of ewes and lambs can get dirty which attracts fly’s. Fly’s lay eggs in this dirty wool, which hatch out into maggots which then proceed to eat away at the sheep. This is called Fly Strike. It can often be noticed by sheep waggling, biting, scratching their tails allot, or by sheep hiding away in the shade and reluctant to move. However in this heat Fly Strike can occur in clean dry sheep, with Fly’s laying eggs in sweaty areas such as in-between the shoulders. After sheep have been shorn the next troublesome areas for possible fly attack are shearing cuts, so be sure to antiseptic spray all cuts.

Many farms operate their water supply via springs; natural sources of water from the ground. In this dry weather these springs can run low so checks of water trough levels or streams which provide drinking water for sheep need to be checked regularly.

Sheep do not like to be moved in the heat. Sometimes hot spells can’t be avoided or foreseen but do try and check the weather forecast and plan moving stock around the hot periods. So getting up an hour earlier to move stock will be allot less stressful for you, the dogs and sheep than it will be in the heat. You will find that sheep will be reluctant to move in heat, will not flock together, will chose to flee downhill rather than uphill and will lie down and refuse to move; much like when you move stock too quickly. So my advice would be to move stock early morning or late afternoon in avoid frayed tempers.

So I am very much enjoying this hot weather and hope it stays around. The shearers come to do the last 300 ewes tomorrow so those sheep will be pleased. Touch wood we have had no cast ewes this year or fly strike but in the coming weeks we will be using preventative treatments on sheep to discourage fly strike and weaning time will not be too far away. So until then I plan to make the most of the sunshine as I had pretty much forgotten what a summer was!

cast

Annabelle x

Getting land… It’s good to talk!

Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting 10 like-minded girls within the Agricultural industry. Most- if not all, were either raised or currently work on a farm. I was the odd one out. When asked what my parents did for a living, my reply of ‘Painter and decorator and a hairdresser’ was quite a surprise to the other girls. I am, however, lucky enough to have 45 of my own to look after, thanks to the non-farming parents.

 

I get asked quite a lot by other young agri-enthusiasts how I gained the land we graze so I thought I’d do a blog post on how I got to where I am with the hope of helping you all out.

 

1. Its good to talk

First and foremost, it’s about being an opportunist. Land will not walk up to you and offer its services. Nor will the land-owners (in most cases, anyway). As my Dad often tells me, “It’s good to talk.” I don’t look like someone who’s crazy about sheep and the farming industry so a kind old gentleman in the corner of a pub wouldn’t think twice about offering me his pasture to graze. So, unless I go over and introduce myself neither myself nor the landowner will get anywhere fast.

Our latest grazing was gained by pestering the new owner of the grassland. We initially went for a steep bank covered in ferns and scrub (ideal for our breed and, hopefully, cheap!). After several phone conversations he offered us the 6 acres beside his house in return for a little fencing. I went to meet him and shook hands on the deal. Two days later he phoned to offer us another 6 acres. Happy days!

 

2. It’s not what you know…

Most of our land has been acquired through my Dads involvement in the local shoot. One of his friends there had a piece of land going to waste (After having horses on it for a year, he vowed never to let them on it again!). After approaching him he was happy to have the sheep on it year round simply so he didn’t have to mow it yet again. Our summer grazing is owned by the farmer who runs the shoot who offered it to us after my Dad cleared a copse for him this spring.

 

3. Making the most of it…

Our winter grazing is on a 120 acre ex-dairy farm less than a mile from our winter grazing. One day, after a strong storm, a tree fell across the track to the sheep. My Dad was cutting it down when an angry old man came over, braces and all, demanding to know what was happening. It turns out he was one of the biggest grassland farmers around us. After multiple cups of teas and sweet talking, we came to an agreement of strip grazing his land throughout the winter.

 

4. Aim big…

We don’t live in a village so we can’t approach people with over-run gardens or empty pony paddocks. Four of the five farmers we rent our land off are probably the biggest land-owners (with the exception of estates) around us. They got to where they are by being opportunists and if there’s land to buy, they’ll have it. This inevitably means they’ll have some waste land somewhere that they don’t use. They’re probably not stock fenced, full of weeds and no doubt have no water supply but, they’ll be cheap and in some cases free! You’re offering them a service and as long as it’ll be no trouble to them, they’ll consider your request.

 

So, after reading all this you’re probably thinking it’s not me that’s gotten the land, it’s my Dad. This is true for most of it. His involvement in the shoot, his handy skill with a chainsaw- it’s all a case knowing the right people and being in the right place at the right time.  It’s my parents that taught me that I need to be an opportunist, make the most of every situation I’m in and to make the best impression you can.

 

But before you think I simply ‘lucked out’, we spent a good 6 months trying to find even just one acre. So don’t be disheartened by the multiple knockbacks you will get because it is hard to get your foot in the door. Just know that that lucky break will come at some point if you work hard enough towards it.

 

My next post will be about training my wonderful parents into sheep-farmers so I can jet off to New Zealand for a year!

 

Keep it Sheepish

 

Sophie x

#EweTube: Hoggs Home For Shearing

The Hoggs return to the home farm for a few days for shearing. The hoggs are balls of fluff and have never had their fleeces clipped before, therefore they tend to be more wriggly. Generally hoggs and tups are the first sheep to be clipped on the farm because their fleeces are ready to be shorn first. To describe this better I will need to collect some more detailed footage. I could talk forever about shearing so intend on doing several #EweTubes on the topic as it is an art and a skill.

Annabelle x

No #EweTube tonight as I am knackered!

The shearers have been here today, so it has been a long day on sheep. Therefor I don’t really have time to turn today’s filming into a #EweTube, so unfortunately there will not be a one tonight.

When we first set up the site we both made a commitment to do blog posts once a week. I love doing #EweTubes as well as written blogs but it all takes time. Allot of work goes into #EweTube clips and I don’t want to do half-hearted ones. However sheep work is now starting to pick up again, with shearing, feet, dosing and the likes all to do in the coming weeks. So there will be lots of footage and lots of things to share with you all.

So I look forward to getting the ball rolling with informative #EweTubes once again, although my body and mind are going to have to step up as lately I am knackered!

Annabelle x

fdsfa

The ‘Meatrix’ scenario.

Over the weekend I was away at a sheep show and caught up with allot of old friends. As we talked it was nice to hear how well things were going now that they are gaining more control over the farming operations at home.  Family farms are passed down from generation to generation which is great news. However it is curious to hear; and slightly worrying, that if they did not have the family farm to walk into as such, then they would chose to farm abroad; with New Zealand and Australia being first choice.

Now after the past few years of British farming, it is understandable that the sunnier climates of such foreign countries would seem appealing, but the older generation are saying the same. If they had their time over again; they would chose to farm abroad, but didn’t have the choice as they had a family farm to uphold.

As you all know Sophie is planning on going to NZ to gain farming experience over there. Many of my friends have done the same, and haven’t returned home. George the winner of the ‘Farmers Apprentice’ is still there and loving it. It is such a different way of life, and a place full of opportunities for the young. So much so that I fear that we are losing a generation to foreign lands because to get into British farming at this age is so hard and so expensive.

It’s worrying to think that the traditional farming families are being lost. That there are less and less small farms and more large scale farms, embracing technology and cutting down on manual labour. This is just an observation of mine and quite irrelevant; but it reminds me of a video clip which I was shown in high school. The video is quite far-fetched and non-factual but outlines a possible outcome for farming if young entrants don’t get a foothold on the farming ladder.

Annabelle x

Girl Vs Sheep…Very much so!

My boss wanted me to do a shearing course as every shepherd should be able to shear their sheep and there are always fully fleeced ewes that seem to disappear when the shearers come and then come tootling out of the woodwork afterwards. So now such ewes have no escape and after I’ve shorn them they will probably prefer to be present for the shearers the next year!

I was pretty nervous about  going on the course;  which was ran by the ‘British wool marketing board’, as I knew I would probably be the only female there and be the least experienced, as I had never shorn a sheep before. Boys being boys, I thought I was going to have my work cut out, be laughed at and overall look like a rite wolly! How wrong was I!

Everybody on the course was friendly and very helpful. I am a very slow learner and the lads partaking on the course helped me out when I got lost to where to go next concerning; feet, arms, hips, legs and then that of the sheep’s body positions! They helped you, you helped them; and we all learnt allot from watching each other. There was a huge amount to take in, in those two days which was only made possible by the instructors. The instructors were amazing! Of course they made it all look far too easy but gave great guidance and even had me successfully shearing a sheep by the end.

So on the first day we had the health and safety talk with the key point being to have a circuit breaker along the electric supply. This is very important in a shed environment, as often sheds are old and wires are exposed to vermin which can chew the wires,cause faults and increase the risk of electrocution. So always have a circuit breaker. We were then shown how to set a hand-piece and talked through the role of the cutters, combs and oil. ‘How to Shear a Sheep’ was demonstrated and then…PUSH! Off you go into the deep end.

I was honestly petrified! Now there was one saving grace for the beginner, and that was that the sheep which we would be shearing were hoggs. These sheep had not been shorn before, were smaller sheep as they are young and they had no lambs so no udder, so there was that obstacle removed. All I kept thinking about was cutting the sheep. Whilst doing the belly I thought I’d cut her and reveal her guts; and up through her neck I thought one wrong move and she is in sheepy heaven! It was so nerve wrecking! However after the first sheep successfully shorn all that goes out the window and you think about what your next position should be; where your feet should be and you start thinking instead of being in a mad panic to get the job over and done with.

The first sheep I did took forever, I couldn’t remember where I was supposed to be never mind where the sheep was meant to be! The instructor told me that shearing a sheep was like doing a technical dance, and once I had learnt the routine the technique would follow, and then speed. These are very wise words. Every part of your body and that of the sheep is moved and keeps moving throughout in a set pattern. Once you’ve got that pattern; that dance routine, shearing sheep is quite enjoyable and very moreish!

It wasn’t easy. My body ached from being pushed in all directions and bruises off naughty sheep that gave me the slip and kicked me for being such a numpty! It is tiring work, the sweat drips off you quite literally and after one I was too knackered to do another. But once I got the shearing pattern I was making progress, I wasn’t so tired as I wasn’t fighting with the sheep the whole time.

So I will do a #Ewetube on this topic, probably a few as it is very interesting and there is allot to talk about. But some tips which I picked up from the course include:

  • Wear flat shoes as you need your balance, the slightest heel will make it allot harder for you ( I wore wellies the first day, trust me!).
  • Start in the correct location on the clipping board, otherwise you won’t reach all the points of the sheep as you work through the shearing pattern.
  • Bending and straightening your knees can bend the sheep to your advantage.
  • Don’t pull legs as it gives the sheep something to push off.
  • Forget all natural reactions; like squeezing when a sheep moves as it will make her move more.
  • Once a sheep has wriggled, kicked and done a hoodeaney on you, she will make the rest of your time with her a nightmare!

I found this video clip on YouTube titled ‘Girl Vs Sheep’ this is how it should be done!

Annabelle x

 

#EweTube Mix the Old with the New!

The warm weather has finally arrived on the farm and with it a happy go lucky vibe for all. The sheep are looking content, the dogs are enjoying life and wildlife is coming out of the woodwork.

Whilst out walking, Annabelle’s mind goes for a wonder as she studies the growth of some fenced off grazing. The different species within it reminds her of the farming industry, with the high achievers and the forever struggling competitors and not forgetting the small but mighty under-dogs as it were.

In all highlighting the need for such under-dogs to be seen and heard, showing potential along with those which may have already grown rapidly!

Annabelle x