Hugh and Pippa Stables run Wandering Ewe Dairy in North Somerset. They produce a hard, unpasteurised, ewes’ milk cheese from their own flock of sheep. 2021 was their third year of commercial cheese production. This is the first of 12 monthly blogs, which are intended to give a flavour of the year.
October is the month of optimism. The days have been sunny and mild. There is a warm yellow glow when the sun shines. Our 2020 cheese is sold. The dairy flock is fattening on our neighbour’s lush grass. Two new rams are raring to go. All is right with the world.
On Monday, I was chatting with another sheep dairy farmer and his neighbour. It was a beautiful evening and we had a terrific view over rolling Wiltshire countryside. We had just agreed that the key thing was to avoid repeating mistakes. His neighbour asked: “What were your worst 2021 mistakes?”. We both sighed, looked down, shuffled our feet a bit and the conversation moved on. Later I reflected on this. It may have been that some of the issues were too technical and dull. But more likely, we are optimists, and not rigorous enough in reviewing our previous year’s mistakes. So here is part of my list.
1. We had our annual inspection from the council in late May, which went badly wrong. It resulted in a list of 25 items all of which had to be implemented as quickly as possible – at the peak of the cheese making season. If we had a Youtube channel the headline would have been “They want to shut us down!” We underestimated the importance of this visit. The Russians have a saying “You should paint the grass green when the General visits”.
2. I failed on a shepherding 101, as some of our dairy ewes did not have their teeth checked last autumn. As sheep get older some of them start to lose a few front teeth – which is no good if you eat grass. When some sheep started to lose weight over the winter I brought them in, and realised my mistake. They never put on enough weight to make the milking flock.
3. We bought two iron age pigs to eat our whey – a bi-product of cheesemaking. Because they arrived at the start of the cheesemaking season, their pen was constructed in a rush. The result was pigs on the loose down the local lane, the village Facebook group red hot, a call from the groundsman at the cricket club, local farmers laughing – “Wandering Ewe or Wandering Pigs?”. The pigs came home for tea.
In November the rams will go in with the ewes, and the clock will start ticking towards 2022 season.
Text and Image (c) Hugh and Pippa Stables
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