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 ninth of 12 monthly blogs, which are intended to give a flavour of the year.
We are reaching a tipping point in the year. The uncertainty that surrounds the new season start up has largely abated. The sheep are well settled into the rhythm of milking – they were queuing at the gate yesterday morning. The weaned lambs are mainly self sufficient and are gaining weight well. There is a pleasing collection of new cheeses filling up shelves in the maturing room.
But there is still one event outstanding before we can get close to contentment. The sheep need to be sheared. It is very hard to get the timing of shearing right. Shear too early and a late cold and wet spell can have the sheep standing around looking miserable; shear too late and they spend their days skulking in the shade, and the milk supply suffers.
In the early days, I attended a shearing course with a view to shearing our own sheep. I very quickly learned that there is a lot of technique involved, and if you have no technique it is extremely physically demanding. My partner on the course (a young farmer’s son) was one third of my age. I can shear the odd sheep, but 150 needs help. It takes the professionals just a few hours to rattle through our flock, and depart, leaving our wool all neatly packed into bags.
They say the army is all hurry up and wait. Shearing for us, is all wait and then hurry up. Our shearers, Bob and Rob work through their larger clients in the early season. The speed of the progress is dictated by the weather. Many flocks are outside, and rain stops play. Then at some point in June or July the call comes in – can we come tomorrow? Saying no is not really an option. So there is then mad rush to get the various groups of sheep gathered – but not mixed up, and load some grumpy 90kg rams onto the trailer and get them to the shearing site.
Every year I think there must be a better way of doing this. But I got the call yesterday and they are coming this afternoon, so I need to go now and make cheese, and then get the rams in the trailer.
Hugh and Pippa Stables
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