The transition with changing cattle breeds on the farm is almost complete. We are moving from more conventional Aberdeen Angus suckler cows, producing a calf crop each year to sell, to traditional, native hill-breeds, such as Belted Galloway and Blue Grey, who are predominantly bullocks (a castrated, young male cow) who are being reared to be sold for beef at four-five years of age.
The native cattle are perfectly suited to the Lakes landscape with naturally hairy coats for the cooler weather and a hardy constitution. We currently have forty cattle on the farm, who are, through their less intensive grazing style helping us create a richer, more biodiverse habitat. More to follow next season on cows and their role in conservation.
We have 750 sheep on the farm and in the farming calendar this is the start of the year for the sheep breeding season.
This year's lambs were weaned (no longer drinking milk from their mothers) at the end of August, so the ewes now get a rest for a few months, with a chance to recover from rearing the lambs before the breeding season starts again. We give them an MOT and decide which ones will be sold and which ones will be bred from again.
We're very much thinking ahead to Spring and even to this time next year, to what lambs we'll have to sell - in farming it's a slow process, you're always planning far in advance. The outcomes of our decisions today will affect the number and quality of lambs we have to sell next year. The 18-month old females, which we've bred, receive vaccinations against various viruses. Even though we're organic, vaccinations are allowed as it benefits the health and welfare of the animal.
After their pre-breeding health check the rams, or tups, will go in with the ewes around 20th November, which will mean lambing will start on 15th April - 147 days for the sheep's gestation. The rams will serve roughly 80 ewes each across the breeding season, which lasts for six weeks - he's going to be a busy lad!
As you're out and about across Matson Ground and the Lakes in Autumn you might notice the rams in the fields sporting a harness. This holds a coloured crayon, which marks the sheep's back once it's been served. This helps us keep count of how many sheep each ram has served - it's a very handy planning and monitoring tool. The crayon colour is changed every week from yellow and orange to red, through to green, blue and lastly black. So we'll know when the sheep will lamb, with the yellows lambing first in early April, through to the blacks in May.
Across Matson Ground we have some tidying up to do following storm Babet, removing fallen trees and repairing boundaries; fencing and walling is an ongoing task on our jobs list. We're really pleased to welcome a new member to the Matson Ground team, Matt, who has a vast experience of woodland management, tree safety, fencing etc and will be a great asset to us as we continue our habitat creation and conservation projects.
Let's hope these coming months don't bring any further damage and we can all enjoy some glorious autumnal days.
If you see me and my team out at work, don't hesitate to stop for a chat.