Finding young, talented, hard working staff can be a hard thing to do, so when they do come along, you often have to try hard to keep hold of them.
And the sheep industry is no exception to labour problems, reckons Thetford, Norfolk-based sheep producer Andrew Foulds.
“My lads give it their all, working in all conditions through the year, so I have to do something to make their working environment more pleasurable.”
With that in mind he designed an all-weather sheep handling system which can be transported across the many holdings he has from Newmarket to the coast.
The prototype, which has only been in use for six weeks, is mainly used for crutching store lambs, but can be used for all methods of sheep handling activities.
“Handling pens can be set up along with a race and weigh crate for sorting and drenching lambs easily.
Once lambs are drafted through the pen, whoever is crutching can work with the sheep totally under cover and, ideally, out of the wind.”
Shepherd Hamish Tomlin, who does most of the lamb crutching, says working off the ground and undercover helps keep machinery clean as well as keeping sheep clean while turning them over.
“Lambs are pulled out of a pen, crutched and can be drafted through either door at the front of the trailer, while fleece clippings can be swept to one side and bagged,” he explains.
“And when you’re crutching up to 1000 lambs, staying out of the wind and the rain is certainly a big bonus.”
With six full time staff employed by Mr Foulds and 2500 ewes to lamb, the trailer will certainly be in regular use.
“Because it’s tri-axle we could even use it as a trailer for moving sheep.
Its wire mesh floors also mean sheep stay clean,” he says.
But it’s not just for doing the manual management tasks, such as foot trimming and crutching.
Mr Foulds reckons it will be the key to delivering just what the market wants in terms of lamb weights.
“With its two-way drafting mechanism we can easily weigh lambs to sort them into groups.
“And with fewer abattoirs wanting to take lambs over 23kg, we’re able to keep on top of the weights of our lambs by regularly weighing and sorting groups.”