Don't let stressful lambing become a hurdle

New lambs stretch their legs.
ROB TIPA/STUFF

New lambs stretch their legs.

OPINION: Many years ago a sheep farming neighbour once said to me, don't let the lambing become a hurdle that you struggle to get over as the years progress. 

At the time I didn't think much of those words but as the years and the lambings stacked up, I've come to understand the significance of this advice.

I well remember several years ago wishing a local farmer who had just sold his farm, the best of luck for the future. He shook my hand with vigour and said with an enormous smile on his face "this will be my last lambing". That's what a hurdle is - it's starting to stress about lambing once you've put the ram out.

My lambing strategy is simple one, minimal intervention. My focus is on the six weeks prior to lambing as that's where the good or bad decisions are made. It's a bit like All Blacks coach Steve Hansen preparing the team during the week only to be a helpless spectator along with the crowd on game day.  

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Lambing is the only time of the year on the farm when you go out looking for problems. I look over 15 paddocks twice a day on the low country with most of the ewes lambing unassisted on the tussock blocks. Over the years rough tailing calculations have told me that there is virtually no difference between lambs tailed in these two areas.

So why don't I sit inside all day during lambing watching Emmerdale Farm omnibuses? Tempting, but my philosophy is simple, when I sit down at night to watch the news I need to feel comfortable with the effort I've put in during the day.  It's not a good feeling to go out the following morning to see the result of something you know you should have attended to the night before.   

My focus during the lambing rounds is as always, once I'm in the paddock I have to get out as quickly as possible.

Of course the attention now turns to tailing and beyond to season prospects.  It was interesting to read a comment by a leading meat industry analyst who described last year's late season lamb price spike as a "perfect storm".  

My belief is that this is a permanent "climate change" in regards to the supply of lamb. The processing industry is better financially set up now to intensively compete for a smaller pool of stock.

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While the discussion about the retention of stock for breeding purposes may be had, the reality is that a high mutton and lamb price provides the incentive for farmers to trim flocks even further.

Industry commentators know little of the physical nature of sheep farming, so as we find ourselves in or approaching the "trimester" of our farming careers, financial comfort can allow for a less stressful regime in regards to stock numbers and work load.

This could be described as avoiding rather than climbing over the hurdle.

  • Peter McDonald is a Dipton sheep and beef farmer and former chairman of Meat Industry Excellence

 - Stuff

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