Using the services of a freelance shepherd is an option becoming more popular as producers look to cut down labour costs.

Having completed a hill farming diploma at Newton Rigg College in Cumbria, David Sheriff went on to spend five years as a full-time shepherd, before setting up his own freelance business in 2002.

He currently has about a dozen clients, for whom he carries out a range of tasks, including foot-trimming, dosing, dagging and lamb and ewe selection.

The lambing season is an important time for him. This year, he spent from January until May on various farms in the north of England. He frequently sleeps in his caravan, to save on travelling time.

As well as offering sheep management skills, Mr Sheriff can also supply a shearing machine, trailer, mobile handling system and four trained sheepdogs.

He charges about £8.50/hour for labour, plus an additional cost when he uses his own equipment.

Shearing large numbers of sheep is not a service he usually advertises. As a single operator, he considers the work too time-consuming and best done by a specialised team.

However, it can come in useful for clients with small pockets of sheep, scattered some distance from the main farmstead.

Producers have to think much more carefully about taking on employed staff since the introduction of the SFP, he says.

“My clients have become increasingly concerned about costs and most producers are unwilling to make the long-term commitment of employing new staff.

“People tend to make the most of my visits, by saving up a number of different tasks that can all be carried out on the same day. But I try to stick mainly to sheep work, wherever possible,” he stresses.

In the long term Mr Sheriff, who is married with two young children, would like a farm of his own. The family has considered taking on a small tenancy, but finds it hard to justify the capital expenditure needed at the outset, not to mention the high rents stipulated for even the smallest and most modest tenanted farms.

fwlivestock@rbi.co.uk