As the years roll by and with a 60th birthday not too far away, my thoughts increasingly turn towards the future.
My wife tells me that I’ll never retire (she knows these things) and when I ask how I will cope with the physical demands of farming if the joints and muscles are screaming in protest, she assures me there are all sorts of ‘clever things’ nowadays to assist doddery old fools like me.
One major obstacle barring the way to eternal happiness, however, is how to set up a system for lambing sheep that greatly reduces the need for out and out hard graft.
Having put up a new general purpose shed last year, we began to look at how we could future-proof it so that an elderly couple might continue to live their farming dream (and maybe make a few quid at the same time).
A straight run of feed barriers were an obvious part of the solution
Therefore, we made a list of what was needed, who could supply these items, and how much it would cost. So, added to the oldie list of stairlifts, walking aids and incontinence pants were a bale unroller, walk-in feed barriers, proper galvanised sheep troughs (not half tractor tyres) and cameras that would let us relax during mealtimes.
I reckoned (after trying to graip heavy bales last year) that silage handling offered the biggest scope for improvement and automation. A straight run of feed barriers were an obvious part of the solution, but only if coupled with something that would unroll the bales into a nice fluffy row.
Dad, is that Teeswater in the far corner all right? She’s acting a bit strange
The next point of attack was the need for quick and easy access to each pen. The golden rule was no baler twine, as well as being able to open gates one-handed. Then, method of meal feeding was scrutinised, and the luxury of purpose-built troughs was considered to be a justifiable expense.
That left the issue of cameras and remote lambing, and we decided to go the whole hog and try them. It’s a bit soon to know, but it is absolutely fascinating to get a phone call from Sam or Jenny in Sheffield saying “Dad, is that Teeswater in the far corner all right? She’s acting a bit strange.”
Just over £9,000 sorted the whole thing out very nicely (it doesn’t sound as bad if you say it quickly), with the bale unroller accounting for the lion’s share at £4,600.
Actually, it was a bit more than that, because my engineering friend made a Euro bracketed headstock for the front loader, in order to extend the versatility of the machine.
Apart from unrolling silage along feed barriers, we can now reach over into the pens and discharge straw wherever required.
For someone who was brought up believing that the object of sheep housing was to successfully accommodate them without it costing anything at all, it was a giant step to buy several 15 foot walk-in feed barriers at £300 (including fixings) apiece.
I also discovered that a good strong hurdle (nothing made in Toytown thank you) is £70, and a standard 8-foot trough to hang on these hurdles will set you back £50
Nevertheless, they do look the part, and are slightly neater and tidier than builders’ panels tied to pallets, attached to round feeders, secured by frayed rope – in addition, you don’t ever come out in the morning to be greeted by 40 pregnant sheep roaming happily over the entire shed.
I also discovered that a good strong hurdle (nothing made in Toytown thank you) is £70, and a standard 8-foot trough to hang on these hurdles will set you back £50. And considering the complexities of installing a four-camera all singing, all dancing arrangement, I was happy to pay £1,400 (the dwelling house is a considerable distance from the shed, necessitating the electrician to use lots of long words that I pretended to understand).
At time of writing, lambing hasn’t started, so the seeds of our endeavours cannot be fully assessed.
I think we’re as well prepared as I can remember, with individual lambing pens built up and ready to rock.
That problem highlights another issue for the future on this farm
The completed setup looks well, although the continuous scourge of lame sheep on straw bedding hasn’t gone away, despite a second year of vaccinating for footrot.
That problem highlights another issue for the future on this farm. What happens when I am no longer able to hunt down a low-flying mule to give her some treatment? Maybe that will require more monetary investment when the time comes.