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 fourth of 12 monthly blogs, which are intended to give a flavour of the year.
The bleak days of January are here. As I look out over our fields, the pastures are all short – with the brown tinge of dead grass, mixed in with the green. We have a proliferation of mole hills this year – a really positive sign for soil fertility. This is also attracting the attention of our buzzard. Those fields in our line of sight are shut up now, to give the grass plenty of time to grow ahead of our lambing in April. In a normal year there should be plenty of grass by then. But last year we were a bit short.
We have been working through the sheep, checking their feet and body condition. Any that are a bit lame or thin are pulled out for some weeks of TLC. We have learnt that getting on top of these cases early is really important. If everyone is in good shape by the early March, then the lambing period should be smooth. We are expecting the scanner in a few weeks. Knowing how many lambs each ewe is carrying will also help us tuning their care. A number for total expected lambs (should be 200+) also helps focus attention on preparations for the season ahead.
There are proximately 90 different breeds of sheep in the UK. Many of them produce plenty of milk. But one of the key traits of a dairy sheep is calmness. You can have the milkiest sheep in the world, but if you cannot get near it – you won’t make much cheese. Pure bred dairy sheep have been bred for generations to be handled. Walkers on our farm are sometimes a bit surprised when they have to walk around the sheep. Our flock is a mixture of pure bred dairy sheep (Friesland) and Friesland, crossed with a few other breeds. We find the cross breeds (generally) do better in our open air dairying system. This year we have used 2 different breeds of dairy ram – one Friesland and one Lacaune (a French dairy sheep used for Roquefort production). The third ram was a Zwartbles. His offspring, we hope, will produce both delicious milk and deep chocolate brown woolly jumpers in 2024
Text and Images (C) Hugh & Pippa Stables @wandering.ewe
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