Farmer Focus: Sheep milking is just around the corner

By the time you read this, we will be about a week away from milking.

I took a big gamble and ordered the building before we had planning permissions. If I hadn’t done this, we would never have been able to start milking this year.

However, cashflow considerations did not allow me to order everything in case the planning never came.

See also: Food prices to rise by 15% as increasing costs hammer farmers

About the author

Rob and Jo Hodgkins
Livestock Farmer Focus writer
Rob and Jo Hodgkins run 2,300 ewes across 210ha of grass and have 566ha of arable in Hertfordshire, producing lambs for Tesco and breeding sheep through Kaiapoi Romneys. Subsidy-free sheep farming means ewes must be functional, lamb outdoors and produce lambs on forage alone.
Read more articles by Rob and Jo Hodgkins

This means we are about two weeks behind because of delays with the delivery of the concrete panels, and the concrete guys going on holiday rather than pouring our floor.

To make some of this time back, we decided to construct the stalls on skids in the grain store so we can just drop them straight in for the dairy technicians to start on.

Rob’s dad and arable manager Monty have been seconded for construction, and Robbyn, our shepherd, is going back and forth fetching bits as we need them. 

The milk tank and stalls were installed last weekend, and this weekend we’ll cross our fingers for the first few sheep going through the stalls the following weekend.

In among that we’ve got a stand at Groundswell to promote the “perfect regen breeding stock”, as we have for the past few years.

Thankfully, neither of us is required to speak there this year, as we’re not sure which way is up at the moment.

Robbyn and our other shepherd, Fraser, have got all the tailing done and we’re expecting the shearers the first week of July.

Fraser plans to wean some groups and move the ewes straight off to the shearers – something we’ve never done before, as we normally shear earlier, so we’ll see how it goes.

The borage and quinoa are looking the part now, but about 20% of the quinoa area hasn’t come that well.

The best bits of the field are those grazed last over the winter by the sheep – so we’re thinking those areas still had more moisture held near the surface.

Finally, if you’re having a bad week, think of us and be glad you’re not “training” ewes to be milked.

These are ewes that have never been fed or lived in a building, and are only handled six times a year.