16 January 1998

Its cheerio to the old girls

TODAY I have done the job which is my least favourite part of the farming year. I have loaded my old girls and taken them on their last trip.

Yesterday was check-up day – toes, teeth and udders duly inspected and a blue crayon mark on those that didnt come up to scratch. Its the only time Im not pleased to see sheep go off the farm.

With the butchers lambs I am happy that the job of producing them is done and that there will be less mouths to feed, not to mention the cheque going into the bank. With breeding stock we are pleased that they are going on to do a good job for someone else, and again a nice cheque in the bank.

But with the old girls its more like a parting of old friends. Contrary to what non-farming people believe, sheep are not all the same, and over the years we come to know their individual characters and oddities. By the time I have sorted out breeding groups, assisted at lambings, attended to wounds and infections of various kinds and kept a log book of their achievements, not to mention handling them for all the routine tasks, I have developed a sort of relationship with them.

This lot included one with a horrible crooked ear, the permanent result of an infection which required weeks of treatment. Another was one I had a love/hate relationship with as she was always the awkward one. She actually seemed to be intelligent enough to suss out when something more than feeding was about to take place and took appropriate evasive action. She only remained in the flock for eight years because she always had smashing lambs.

This spring we encountered the highest proportion of lambing troubles we have had in the 18 years we have kept sheep. Usually everything goes off without too much difficulty, but this year there were problems with presentation, problems with udders and even a prolapse six weeks after lambing! This all made me realise how stern one must be with oneself at the time of selection for the following year. Maybe I had held on to some of them for a little too long.

Hopefully, the result of the culling is that I can now look forward to the new season with a much younger flock, free of the troubles that come with the passing of the years. It is time to get out the breeding records and sort out the tupping arrangements, plan the winter feeding and check up on all the things there isnt time for during the summer months.

Thats how it is with farming. Good times, bad times. Times to look back and reflect, times to look forward and hope.

And just to give the hopes a little nudge in the right direction, I am now going to ring a friend who has some very nice

shearlings for sale.

Gill McLellan