Future shocks for flocks

22 December 2000

Future shocks for flocks

What will life be like in

future? farmers weekly

reader Julie Thomas writes

about a typical day in the

life of a sheep producer in

2025, her entry for the Sheep

2000 essay competition

March 10 2025

RHIDIAN rubbed his eyes as the lights in his room came on, the blind rolled up with a quiet hum and he hit the switch on the multi unit next to his bed and squinted at the weather display for the day.

Rain again. He pulled on his jeans and grabbed his tea mug from the unit, slurping it on the way downstairs.

At the door he keyed in Tangos number into the keyboard, and by the time he had pulled on his wellies and leggings from the autoclave dryer, Tango was greeting him, happy to be released by his automatic door.

"Some things dont change boy, do they, theres nothing hi-tech about a dog and a stick!"

He jumped on to the octobike and pressed the display screen. Mountain first, he decided, and with Tango in the dome, he set out for the pedigree ladies.

From the screen display, he located the first set of twins, no problem there, both up and sucking. Hell of a ewe that Minnie, milks like a Friesian. He jumped off and using the remote, chipped the two lambs. They shook their ears, puzzled at the sensation, he checked the screen, and fed the details into the keypad. One was a well-boned ram lamb, so just for fun he checked the sire. A wry smile came to his lips when he realised it was Little John. Well done Min, he said, and pressed the exclusive track key. This would keep him updated with his progress and ensure any checks in growth would be notified on the alarm mode.

He checked out the other ewes, chipping as he went. Two lambs taken by a fox today. These agri-environment schemes would have to address the predator problem soon he thought, glancing across the valley to the old hunt kennels turned cattery.

The rain continued. As it trickled down his neck he mused over the decision they as a family had taken in 2000 to convert the old buildings into retail units and revert to outdoor lambing. They had taken that decision just before the European ruling on extensification and so had been well placed to cope with reverting to the type of lambing he had known as a boy.

As he drove down the track, he looked at all the pedigree stock. He knew the recording his grandfather had started in the 1970s to safeguard against scrapie had paid dividends for their farm because they now had the status of a licensed breeding flock. Many flocks could have claimed that status, but they just did not have the recording paperwork in place.

After BSE, there had always been rumblings about scrapie, but when those journalists on Skyhigh papers had run that feature on scrapie after the big GM scandal of 2005, public confidence had been at an all-time low.

Public assurance

The public had demanded the same assurances they had eventually been given in the BSE crisis and flock after flock had been incinerated. It was not much comfort to the others in the valley, but at least he knew his market was assured. Breeding rams were automatically supplied to the national flock, breeding ewes sold on the internet to other licensed breeders and excess stock for meat to Safeburys and Asco. Back to the hill system of the old stratification system of centuries ago.

He mused over the trials they had run when he was a boy on sheep backfat thickness. No doubt it had been influenced by the progress in pig production, but how things change. Pigmeat was now the luxury that poultry had been in the 1950s. Lamb was a delicacy sought by the best restaurants. Beef was the staple diet of the masses, brought in from South America, and it was now cheaper than sugar and potatoes. What a thing to think that the prized steak and chips of his boyhood had now become chips and steak in value terms.

He drove back down the track, passing the rusting and ivy-covered cellphone mast. That had been a real boom diversification, and bust, when satellite communication entered the scene. A digital cellphone was now as rare as 36-month beef.

Back in the house, he docked the remote in the computer to download. Showered and fresh he dressed, patted Tango and sent him to the shed until Phil arrived. Once on the motorway, he manoeuvred into the toll lane and made calls.

At his meeting at Asco he had left them with the projected figures for lamb supply for June and July. On the return journey, he loosened his tie and checked his fertiliser quota. Since the government had taxed organic fertiliser by 60% because of the E-coli crisis, careful calculations were needed. He may be better off renting keep from a non-licensed flockmaster because non-licensed crossbred lambs were going into intervention at k10 a head.

Downhill rapidly

Phil had been round the ewes and fed them by the time he returned, but not all news was good. One ewe had prolapsed and a lamb had rolled into the ditch and drowned. The rest of the day went downhill rapidly when one of the small crossbred flock brought dead twins and Rhidian was unable to foster a spare pedigree lamb on to her because of the EU ruling. He kicked the gatepost several times and Tango cowered behind a pen sensing his frustration.

Where were the European bureaucrats now? It just was not right, and it riled him that he may lose his licensed status if he used his shepherding skills to unite a hungry lamb with a doting ewe.

He went back out to do the next round of the lambing ewes. His spirits rose slightly, even though he was caught in a spiteful shower, there were a beautiful pair of ewe lambs, perfectly matched, so using the remote, as he chipped them, he keyed in their entry for the Royal Welsh show. &#42

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