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Chris interview transcription

  1. 1. Interview with Chris Hughes – owner of The Orchards Farm 16/4/14 Right well then it's only a small holding – it's a part time what people call a hobby farm, really more than anything else. I own seven acres of ground, but in total we've got 40 acres cos we've got outlying grazing ground that we're renting. Initially about 20 years ago I started with one small paddock and four sheep and now we're up to 40 acres and were up to 104 I think in total now with the lambs from this year – it gets a bit hectic at times. I've got upwards of 100 head of poultry – all rare breeds I breed Light Sussex, Rode Island Reds, Morans, and I've got a few Oxford Game which is an old English game bird, and I sell the eggs as well as eggs for eating – people come to the house for eggs off us I've got a breeding flock as well that are out on the field now that the weather's a bit better and I sell the eggs on the internet plus I have long- standing customers who come to me for eggs every year so I've got a pure breed pedigree flock of birds really – I don't show but I've got quite a good name because the old utility breeds whereas years ago in the 40s and 50s when chicken was more of a luxury rather than an everyday food as it is now people used to spend a lot more time and breed the pure breeds but keep them so like the hens were good layers and the cockerels were fattened up. That seems to be coming back now a lot of people are keeping backyard poultry so I went into that at the right time, but I'm 50 this year and I've kept birds – poultry – since I was about 4 I started off with a few bantams that my father bought me – it does get a bit addictive there's too many here sometimes – you have to do a bit of thinning out and selling on so but er that was the mainstay initially, but now – I've got the sheep- I've got a small flock of pedigree Kerry Hills which are a rare breed – really nice and easy – what attracted me to them because I've also got a full time job – there easy lambers – small heads on the lambs – so rather than – if you have to – some of these big commercial breeds that every time as you've seen in that film I have to put my hand in and pull them two out didn't I – that's a rarity, whereas before that was the norm – you know you'd be there every time pulling and dragging and pulling them out and you don't get the longevity – the sheep only lasts – cos . . . . they're . . . a Ferrari the new modern breeds more than anything else – they're not long-term sheep like the ones you've got here some of these ewes are 10-12 years old they're still lambing – and successfully – you know them all individually – you can look in the field and you know there's maybe 40 ewes in the field but you know them all individually and pretty much how old they are but the new modern breeds – you get 4-5 years out of them and then they sell them on they've gone they usually go they go in what they call the cold ewe market and off they go into the trade for halal meat and the likes of that for curries because they say they're too tough for the normal UK palate, so I prefer have a bit more of a pet really more than anything else . . . Kerry Hills – its a mid-Wales breed. You have 3 distinctive type of sheep – you have the hill sheep and then you have more of the ones you see like in Snowdonia and up in the Lakelands – the Lake District – and then you have like a mid-level sheep which are more for the likes of round here it's quite a hilly area where about less than a thousand feet above sea level but they're more of a like a utility, like a hill breed more like a bit more like a goat more than anything else you know they're very slow to fatten whereas the Kerry Hills they've got quite a quick growing rate – again they're easy care sheep – they're easy to look after – and then you get the low level lowland commercial sheep like the Suffolks and the Texans and the Beltecs whereas they need a lot of grazing and you know a lot of fuel so they're on the really good grass you'll see them on the low land like they're in Cheshire and places like that you see a lot of those – you don't tend to see so many of them around here. You'll buy off those flocks – you'll buy what they call terminal sires which are – you buy a Suffolk or a Texall ram to go on to a Kerry Hill ewe and that'll produce a good commercial lamb that'll fatten up quickly. These big commercial lambs that you'll see in the market – the big buyers like Tesco people like that they buy a specific size of sheep so over the years we've tweaked the breeding. You're selling a
  2. 2. lamb at 40 kilo and that's what these big buyers are looking for. So at Tescos when you buy a leg of lamb you look at all the legs of lamb in that freezer they're all the same size and they're all round about 16 to 20 weeks old – they're not very old you know they've been pushed and pushed and pushed they've had a lot of feed a lot of grain cereal what we call creep feed is a high protein food to push them on. I do use that because once they're on that they're not drawing the ewes down so much so you can wean them and the ewes can have time to recover before you put them to the ram again. But I tend to . . . this Kerry Hill ram because they're easy lambers they've got small heads they come out and they've pretty much got their heads up they want to go sucking straight away and you don't have no problems with them. I usually sell my lambs – my lambs are fat by 9 months. And I tend to send – most of my lamb goes for freezer pack trade so I've got customers who come to me like October time - “is your lamb ready yet?” - “yep” - “right” - and they'll buy a whole or a half lamb off me for Christmas and for over the winter I've got again long-term customers for that people come back . . . Because I haven't got a food hygiene certificate myself – what I tend to do is I'll say to people like they're going to slaughter say next Monday, and I know for a fact those lambs because they're a bit older I like to let them stand or what they call hang for ten days, so the meat is a bit more mature, it's not when you look at it like bright pink, it's a bit more of a darker meat and the butcher will do that for me cut the joints up and then I deliver direct to the customers I go straight to the houses and say right there's your lamb and that's how I do it so there's no middle man all there's to do is pick them up and off they go there's no – I don't actually handle the meat itself it comes to me in a box and I deliver the box. ID: Tell me about springtime on the farm and the lambing season. It's a bit hectic, to say the least. In the springtime it's a bit hectic because it's not only just the sheep – while I'm doing that – well obviously I've got a small veg plot I'm growing veg, seeds, I can't really leave the farm because when I'm working – I'm quite fortunate you know that me family enjoy doing it as well - me children and my wife enjoys doing it as well – it's you go I very rarely get to bed before 2 o'clock in the morning and I'm normally up by 6 – even though like I've said a few times now they're easy care sheep you can't leave them all night – you know – maximum 4 hours you've gotta be down there and have a look and make sure everything's ok. So er there tends to be a routine that we all pull together on it like this year's an exception because as you see now I was on crutches cos I've had an operation on my leg so normally I do 90% of the work but everybody's pulled together really well this year. I'll do – because I'm an early riser I'll do the early morning check which is usually about 5 o'clock in the morning so I'm up at 5 then I'll just have a cup of tea and just set down on the settee for an hour see if I can doze off again that's if I'm not working cos otherwise I'm off to work for 6 o'clock every morning. My stepfather he'll go out and check them at about 10 o'clock – he's not very well – he's got Parkinsons but he goes out and it's just to cast his eye over them to make sure everything's fine you know. If the wife is working she'll do that and then she'll do a few checks in the day and then my eldest son's home from work well the youngest one first of all he comes home from school he goes round them and checks them at 3 o'clock me eldest one he comes home from work about half past 5 – 6 o'clock he'll go out there and do them then I do the later check lock everything up feed everything make sure everything's fine and then usually I'm settled down then on the settee I don't go to bed till 2 because my eldest lad he'll come in from being with his mates or his girlfriend's – he'll check them at 11 o'clockish before he goes to bed – then at 2 o'clock I'll check them then I go to bed so I'm not disturbing me wife so much. So there's – not a lot of sleep for about a month. ID: Can you describe for me what happens – you know you're checking them – you see a ewe that's . . .
  3. 3. Yeah – if – I pretty much do all the lambing – Matthew can do it, the eldest son, but if there's a ewe lambing – if she's ok and she's getting on with it – they've got quite a bit of room down there – and she's not somewhere stupid – in a pool of mud or out in the snow or the rain – I'll leave her to it until she has the lambs you know I'll just go back in the house, put the kettle on go back out in 20 minutes time and see how things are doing. If she is being a bit stupid and she's gone to a silly place to lamb this is at night – I will get her in the shed straight away into the lambing pens – cos after they've lambed they need a period of bonding. Cos you've got so many ewes and lambs together in quite a small space when they're in the shed, you can get mismothering whereas you'll have a ewe that is close to lambing she hasn't lambed – shell see somebody's lamb, take a fancy to it and she'll try to take it in as her own. And then you've lost the bond between the two then and then you have a real job getting them you know to pair up. I've got a system that works for me is I get them in a pen whether it be a single or a set of twins or triplets – I've had no triplets this year – once they've lambed I spray their navels with iodine which stops any bugs or anything tracking into their bodies then I'll give them a period of rest then give them an hour or 2 just to clean the lambs get on with it make sure everything's all right I go back then, make sure that they're up and sucking they've got up within half an hour they should be on their feet and then within an hour they'll want a drink and then they'll go have a look at the ewe make sure they try and suck on the ewe. I'll go there then and intervene a little bit – I'll spray a number and they're only consecutive numbers like this year it was 1 to 34 for the 34 ewes lamb and so the ewe will have a 34 on it or a 1 and the lambs will have the same even if there's two there'll be 2 34s of the lambs so I know that number 34 – that's a little family – that's family 34. So if they do go in the field and they start acting daft and trying to – I can say no hang on – back in the shed – there you go lambs – you know they're your lambs – until there's a real strong bond. Next step then with them is – well, when I've put the number on – is check that she's got milk because they don't always have milk – it's very important that they have the colostrum, which is the first milk which has all the antibodies and everything in – and that then sets them up – you can tell straight away if they've had a drink – some ewes they'll have a big bag on them, and no milk – and you'll think there's loads of milk in here where is it? Sometimes it takes a day or two – a day or two to come down, so what you have to do then – feed the lambs – I've got frozen colostrum in the in the freezer that I've actually milked off a ewe – say I've got a ewe with a load of milk and she's only got one lamb – I'll let the lamb have its first suck – and they produce colostrum for the first 24 hours – I'll then go in once everything's settled down and I'll milk a bottle and I buy these disposable baby bottles and I'll fill one of them up, put it in the freezer and it'll last years. I've used colostrum in the freezer for up to 5 years – obviously put the date and the year on it – and I've been successfully rearing lambs – and sometimes you get orphan lambs that – the ewe's actually died you know while she's been having them but the lamb's still alive – if something happens to the ewe – they haemorrhage – things do go wrong – like I said to you before, like – I keep the sheep for quite a while, quite an age and they might have a heart attack having the lamb – you know every year they might be all ewes – they're not pets – they are to a certain degree, but they've got to lamb, you know they've got to have a lamb. I'll give them one chance – if they don't lamb – say this year I've had 2 down there this year that haven’t had lambs – I wont get rid of them, like in the big commercial farms, its a real cut-throat business, very tight margins – ill give them 12 months and see if they’ll lamb for me next time around for me and quite often you’re rewarded with twins next year, you know, so it works out so but that's the system that I use. The day after they've lambed – before they go out on the field I then ring their tails, dock their tails and if they’re not pedigrees the ram lambs I also castrate them – put the rings on their testicles – because I keep the lambs up until about 9 months – by the time they're 6 months old they’re sexually mature, so and they're really like teenagers, you know, their hormones are really high – if you don’t castrate them you’ll find they try and get in and come the autumn when the ewes come back into season for to take the ram, the sons are trying to get in to them, whereas if you’ve castrated them the management of them's a lot easier, you can put them in
  4. 4. the next field to each other and they're not trying to jump the fence and what have you, so and I do dock the tails more for the hygiene for the sheep. In the summer – or in the spring when you turn them out the grass is growing quite well like it is at the moment – a lot of moisture in the grass – it does tend to go straight through them – so they get the runs and they get dirty backsides – its cool at the moment, but give it another month – end of May say – and you’ll have problems with bull-fly and the flies lay their eggs on the sheep’s wool and its more a problem with lambs than ewes cos you don’t shear the lambs, and they’ll lay their eggs and they’ll hatch out and the sheep will have maggots on them and it can kill them if you don’t catch it soon enough. Cos I work full time – I'm not organic – I actually use a product called Clip – where you spray down the backs in like a U shape around the back legs of the sheep- and that’s a deterrent for them to lay their eggs on them – it doesn’t smell very nice, not very pleasant at all, but it also kills any eggs that go on it, so it keeps – its good for the management of the sheep – its the care of the sheep you know, because I have had over the years when I didn’t do anything like that – I've had trouble with lambs that have had maggots on them – and once they’ve got that smell – you always find that they always lay the eggs on the sheep that’s got the dirty backside and its usually – he’s got a high worm burden – or its got something wrong inside, its digestion isn’t quite right – or he’s eaten something soft – a lot of my land backs onto peoples gardens – oh the sheep are there and they’ll throw something over for them and its poisonous – and the flies – the smell of the sheep must change, because they’ll lay the eggs on that lamb, even if its a poor do hell have a thin lamb that doesn’t have a dirty backside, but the maggots'll be at it – so I trim the tails, cut the tails – I don’t cut them off, I put the ring on them and then within a month they drop off and the same with the testicles. And then I spray them as well with this Clip and it does do a good job – you can rest easy because sheep that’ll get maggots – lambs that get maggots, sorry – you'll find that you might not look at them for 2 days – I work 13 hour shifts where I work, so I come home and that’s it and I know they’re up there – where they are the peoples ground that I rent they cast an eye over them every day so I'm quite lucky – and you’ll find – 2 days time you’ll have a major infestation on a lamb and you just no matter what you do – you might be lucky in saving it, but quite often it doesn’t matter what you do it's already got the infection inside of it, you can give it antibiotics whatever you want, and it’ll just go downhill and it’ll die – might not die straight away, you'll think oh I've saved that one and then you put it back out after all the tender loving care and you come out in the morning there it is feet up in the field, it's just they’re not right afterwards you know. And you can't – the meat'll be condemned as well – depends on how deeply into them the maggots have eaten – and it's a horrible thing when you go there and they’re under the wool and they’re marching along, you know, and it's – ooh horrible. You’ll have an area of meat there that when it goes for meat inspection when they’ve been slaughtered that quite often they’ll condemn it, so then you’ve got a 3-legged sheep, you know, coming back. You can't sell that, you know, people want the back legs, don’t they. And it's always on the back end of the sheep on the best cuts, so that's why I do that. ID: Tell me what happens to the male lambs and what happens to the female lambs. Most of the female lambs – if they're good doers and they grow quite well I either keep for replacements for myself – the females – and some people come here- I sell some in July/August time there’s like stall – breeding new she – sales – auctions – and I'll send a batch off to the auction for somebody else to use for breeding for terminal sires like I said to you before you put a meat ram on the ewes and so all of them pretty much live. The ram lambs – the ones that you seen born – because he was a cross-bred – he’s been castrated and he'll go for meat – 9 months – I actually – for our family to eat I keep back a couple and we call them hoggets – you’ll see Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall raving on about mutton and I keep a couple
  5. 5. of the ram lambs back for myself and they’ll go all the way through this summer the ones that go in the field for you now there’s twenty in the field by now – there’s 2 rams lambs in there – castrated and they’ll go on they’ll get all the good grass this summer with the ewes and then come September time when they’re really fat I send them off to slaughter for my freezer because they’re really good big joints – more flavour to them. We prefer that meat – you know – it is a bit of a delicacy really as much as anything else – whereas in the commercial market everyone wants these little 40 kilo lambs for Tescos – they’re the major buyer – Tescos and Asda – these big massive buyers – they buy a thousand lambs at a time in the markets you know. But any pedigree ram lambs of the Kerry Hills, I'll – they don’t get castrated – I'll keep them on over – I've got 2 of them actually down in the field down the road now – all the way through the following year till August time, and then if they’re good enough I will take them to the society sale in Ludlow, sell them there, or take them to Chelford market and sell them in the rare breed sale – get a bit more money for them – try and build up a bit of a reputation for Kerry Hill sheep. I’m a novice at it at the moment with the pedigree sheep breeding – I've only had the flock now I think this is the fourth year so I'm only just a learner and a bit of a junior in the society – a thorn I think in their side I think at times . . . ID: Tell me about the costs – I mean how much does it cost to raise a lamb? Oh goodness me. Right – costs-wise – I think if I looked at it really closely I suppose I'm working for about a pound an hour when I'm doing it, but it's totally different to what I do in work so I enjoy doing it. The feed is the major cost – the winter feed – and the medicines and the treatments that you have to give them. You have – springtime – you’ve got to – before lambing – 6 weeks before you start lambing you have to feed the ewes concentrate – it's a meal – you’re a slave to the price of wheat, depending on how much the wheat is – like last year it was quite a good harvest, but the variation in the costs – you have to shop around. It can vary from £250 a ton up to £350 a ton for meal, and it's all the same stuff it's just the different manufacturers. To get a decent price you have to buy in bulk, so bulkwise you have to buy by the ton so 40 bags. Now I've got to a point now where – 35 ewes – a ton is enough – if I went any more I'd have to buy more and you have to buy by the ton – you can't buy by the bag so I'm at a point now where you think, well I'm ok as I am – keep my nice small nucleus as I am – there’s enough sheep for the land that I've got and a lot of it is seasonal grazing that I've got, and then if I go any bigger I'll have to buy more than a ton and then the costs aren’t quite the same, so I buy by the ton, and if I've shopped round I spend about 2 days on the phone talking to different suppliers and this year it was £240 a ton – I had to travel to Denbigh which is – what is it – 40 mile round trip to go and pick it up – so you’ve got the cost of the diesel there as well. You have your medicines costs – if you’ve had to intervene like that ewe in the video you have to inject them with penicillin for 3 days after – its a product called Penstrep – long acting antibiotic – cos you can introduce with your hands – it doesn’t matter how clean they are – introduce infections into the sheep, so that’s not majorly expensive really but you have to buy that from the vet. And then you have the costs of the Clip – that’s £60 a litre – you usually go through at least a litre of that a year depending how successful the lambing is this year and I go through a lot more this year because I've got a lot more lambs. ID: What's Clip? Clip it's a product that you spray on the lambs to keep the maggots – the flies away. I also do the ewes as well because it also clears any lice or anything that they have so when they’ve been sheared, I put Clip on them and then they’re happy then, they’ve had their delousing and de- fleaing for the year. And then you’ve got your worming products. Everybody has to worm them, you know, anybody who's got a cat or a dog has to worm the cat and dog, you know – and varying products, usually about £50 a litre – so I'll go through a litre of those a year. And
  6. 6. then the major one after that is the rental of the ground. Around here they charge – by the sheep – 35p per week per sheep, so it works out I suppose at rental of the ground that I've got – I suppose I pay out round about a thousand pound a year rent , so I've got about fifteen hundred quid's worth of costs total for the year. And then I have to pay the shearer to come and shear the sheep. I can do it myself, but I have a gang of lads that like to do the small flocks, they’ll come in and what takes me – I start 8 o’clock in the morning I'm still going 8 o’clock at night – they’ve blitzed it in 2 hours – you know, they’re young lads they come out – they’re only 18/19 – they’re shouting at me to be a bit quicker to pass on the sheep, and shh – they’re done – they only come and charge me fifty quid – you know, they’ve done them all – in 2 hours it's done and dusted – it's come in like a whirlwind – done, gone. So I've got the costs of that, but that is covered by the costs of the wool – you know, the price that I've got for the wool, so I'm not worried about that – that’s just something you have to do for the welfare of the sheep – you know it gets too hot – and those really are the major costs – and then you’ve got, harvest-wise I make my own hay – fodder – it can be hellishly expensive – again it depends on the year with the weather – but I make my own hay – and it works out, doing it myself about a pound a bale I suppose, and this year I've used hardly any – I suppose in total I've used 50/60 bales? I've still got 200 bales in the shed – cos the weather's been so kind to us this year, the grass was still growing and the outlying grazing the way I've got it set up now I've got this land – a lot of it quite local – nothing more than 4/5 miles away from home, and they do, like I say it saves a burden on the hay because otherwise I'd be feeding hay left right and centre – the rental of the ground is cheaper than buying fodder, that’s how I look at it, so those are the major costs – but this year I've got 40 lambs – if I sold all those lambs, which I don’t sell them all straight away – this year I'd be looking to be getting I suppose 5/6000 pounds back on them if I'm lucky. You know, so I've made after costs about 2000 pound, so there’s 3000 pound there, but the hours that you put in – you know - its lambing time or what have you – I dread to think – cos I don’t get out – because it's what I do, you know. It's a good job – there’s a program been on on the telly lately – the Hill Farmer – I don’t know whether you’ve watched it, and er I picked up on one thing that he said – he’s got like 3000 sheep to my hundred, and he said about the cost of a lamb he said well that’s £30, he said, that's a day's wages for a man, and I thought – he’s not working for a great deal, that guy, you know, he’s up all hours – so you don’t look at the costs, it's the overall – it's a way of life, you know at the end of the year you’ll get your costs, well I spend any profits that I've got on things that make my life easier. I bought a tractor, and I bought a baler and I bought a mower, so that – cos I tend to find that, if I’m making hay, everyone else in the area that I could call on to cut my grass and turn my grass for me – they’re doing it and they’re using the equipment. So all I depend on now is a contractor to bale it – I have got my own baler, but you don’t – years and years ago you used to have loads of people queueing up to come and help you carry the hay, you know, for a fiver and a nice meal and a few glasses of cider at the end of it, whereas now nobody wants the work, you know, they – that's why you find these big bales – they all – the farmers – they do it themselves all with big machinery ID: Big circular things Big circular ones, yeah, that's it. I still make the small square bales, because that's how I’m set up – you've seen my place here, it's on a bit of a bank. I do use the big bales – I’ve got big bales of straw, but it's more of a manual manoeuvring of them rather than anything else, because some of the big bales – if there's silage in the rack – they can weigh a ton – and I haven’t got a loader on my tractor – everything's done with a spike on the back, so I tend to make the hay myself, but like I say when I want to make hay so's everybody else, so the only person I’m slave to is the contractor that comes and bales the hay – and again, a bit like the shearers, because he's set up to do it he's got the big equipment, whereas my little 1960s baler that I’ve got here would take me a day to bale it, he's gone round the fields quicker - driving
  7. 7. the tractor quicker than I can walk, and he's baled it all in an hour, and all I’ve got to worry about is carrying the bales into the shed. So, whereas before, I was in the field baling, so they were a man down carrying the bales – plus, I was using my tractor – whereas now the tractor's got the trailer on it and you're carrying the bales – as quick as he's baled them, you're loading them on the trailer – in the shed, done and dusted – a bit more of a slick operation. And a lot of people now – even the big people – you know, it's contractors, so there's a cost there – he charges me a hundred quid a year to grew (?) me hay – it's not a great deal – 30p a bale, you know, so . . . ID: How long is it between after they’re born and they go to market? 9 months, pretty much. . . They're born in February/March and – depending on how good doers they are, you always get – no matter what it is – you get the runts of the litter and everything, don’t you, and they take a bit more looking after and a bit more bringing on – but all the good doers – the ram lambs – they go for slaughter – they'll go October/November time, depending on how well they're doing, straight off grass – they're actually sent off up into the hills on some grazing that I've got up just between Mold and Ruthin – they go up there and – I tend to take them as a batch – it's easier for me to say I need to take ten. And like I said, the way I'm set up with freezer packs, I ring everybody up and deliver them round. The – you'll get the poor doers – you'll have some that'll go – they'll need a bit of feed – you'll have to buy what they call creep feed to finish them off – or lamb finisher – and they'll take a little bit more. There's not as much money in them – you know – you’ve got to give them a chance, you know, it's a life isn’t it. And they'll go January/February time with a little bit more tender loving care, or if they're not really doing that well I'll take them to get them done and I’ll keep them for myself, you know, because they'll be smaller joints, but they're all right for what we so. We eat a lot of stews in this house so they're all right for the stew pot. And then the ewe lambs that have been good – I’ll keep them right through to the following year – some will go – well now they're lambing now next week I'm taking some of the ewes and lambs to market – you call them couples – they'll go with the lambs at foot, cos I’ve got – you've got to keep, like, some of these ewes now, they're going to finish their life now, they – so rather than me sending them to market – cos I don’t really want to take them to market to be – you know – to be killed – cos at the end of the day, I don't know where they're going, if you know what I mean – I know when I look after them, mind, you know they go straight off the field straight to the slaughter house. There's no middle man there, but I'll sell – because I’ve got so many this year, I'll have to sell some of them – ewes with lambs at foot – and they'll go to the store sheep sale up in Ruthin next Thursday. And I'll take half a dozen ewes with lambs at foot up there. And I will take some of the older ones, because – you know, it's a shame to see them going, but they'll go and they'll have a good summer somewhere on somebody's grass, you know, somebody who's got loads of grass, so I let them go like that. And then come July, I'll sell some of the ewe lambs and they'll go for breeding for somebody else, and – I've set up a few people locally who have come to me and said, oh I’ve got a field there, can I have a couple of sheep. And I'll sell them a couple of ewes and ewe lambs . . . and then, they'll bring them back for me to put them in to lamb first season for them as part of the deal – yeah they'll bring them here and put them in with my rams and then away they go, and then usually they're on the phone come January, February, March saying – what do I do now?! You know, it's – I've set a few people up now – into the way of life. I've only been doing it myself full time for myself twenty-two years now – we've been here 18 and we started four years before, and – but I've worked on farms all my life, since I was eleven. I've worked on all the farms in the area doing all sorts of stuff, so – and I really enjoy doing it – it's totally different to what I do in work, so - ID: One thing I wanted you to talk about is the foxes – because you were quite entertaining about that. Tell me about what happens with foxes on your farm.
  8. 8. They're not very popular. When you keep a lot of poultry and when you're lambing, they're not very popular at all. . . Foxes are not very popular around here. I've been decimated over the years. I keep on top of them – I've got a cage – a fox cage – and you'll find – well, I know round here anyway, nearly every farm in the area has got a cage set, so if you go up and down the farm, some have got several. You get a lot of predatation – predators coming round taking them – especially at lambing time. They'll be out for an easy meal. A small lamb on the field – a weakly lamb – especially a ewe with twins – because you always find twins are smaller than a single – because he's been in his mam he's had all the goodness hasn't he – and what they'll do is they'll come up the field and they'll – they'll harass the ewe – they're really protective – my sheepdogs – they'll look at them when they've got their heads down, you know, they take some tackling with that big head on that ewe. What they'll do is they'll harass the ewe until – she can only protect one lamb at a time – and they'll take their opportunity – oh they're opportunists (?) - boosh – as soon as that one lamb is away from the ewe – bang – they'll have it and they're gone. And it's happened to me with one – it was right by the house a few years ago – I had a really really bad year with it – it must be 5/6 years ago now. You'll find it's a vixen that's got cubs, if you're lambing later in the season, or it'll be an older fox – there might be something wrong with him, you know he's got a poorly, he's got a bit of – he's lame, he's got a bad leg or something like that – he's had a knock off a car – and he's just trying to survive, isn't he, at the end of the day, it's nature. He doesn't really – he doesn't get no sympathy off me if he comes here. I've had them come here – I’ve come home from work – as I say – it's half past seven, it's dark anyway when I come home from work – my wife said, oh, there's a new lamb on the field – right, I’ll go out and check it. She's got 2 nice lambs on her. I've come in – I've said to her, well I'll have my tea then I’ll go and put them in the shed. Half an hour – an hour – later, I've gone out to move the lambs, and there's only one there – the fox has been – bang – nailed him, and literally he's come all the way up to the house here where my dogs are and done it. You know, it's – that's – knowing full well, that – they always say crafty as a fox – he knows the dogs are fastened up, and he's took em. I've lost – the same year I had a ewe lamb with a little tiny tiny lamb – there was nothing wrong with it – he was fine. I kept him in over a couple of weeks, make a bit of a fuss of him, make sure he was all right – I loaded him up, took him down to the field, which was just over the back here, where the others were, and in the morning – I put him in with the other ewes and lambs and everything was fine – he . . . bit like a miniature, half the size of everything else on the field, and the following morning I come to check them, and he was gone. And obviously in the night a fox had had him in the night. I have terrible trouble like so the other part of what I do is we – my poultry – they'll come and – people who keep poultry – ooh the fox has been in me shed – like, if he's been in your shed at night and you've left it open, you shouldn't have the animals, you're not looking after them. You know, I go – we go round, as soon as it starts getting dark, and they go in – that's the last show we do at night is close all the birds up, cos I've got a lot of money's worth of poultry, you know. But in the summer, when they're all out – me laying flock are free range, me ducks are free range, the breeding birds are in pens, obviously to keep the lines pure, you know to – because I don't want to be crossing Light Sussex with Rode Island Reds. And he'll come here – it'll be a vixen it will be, with a litter of cubs – she'll come and she'll take – she'll kill the lot of them if she gets the chance – she'll, she'll have them, you know like. And if I'm not here, she'll kill 5, 6, 7 or everything on the field. You'll come home from work and there'll be feathers everywhere. It's nature – she'll kill them all, and then she'll drag them away and hide them under tree trunks and roots in the woods, like we back on to the woods at the back here. And then it's war then to try – but you wont catch her when she – you know, you'll have a hell of a job. So we try and keep – over the winter – keep on top of them. I border onto a 1500 acre estate here that we shoot on, and we keep on top of the foxes there as well, so the last couple of years we haven't been too bad. You know it's – everything caught in the cage is disposed of – it's shot -
  9. 9. ID: Can you tell me about the shooting then? So they're in the cage and then – what – you – stick the gun through the - Dispatch em, yeah. That's it, yeah . . . The cage is usually, it's usually, it's baited with a dead chicken or – people will see me and wonder what I'm doing – if you're driving down the road and you see road-kill on the side of the road – a dead pheasant or a dead rabbit – I'll pick that up and put it in me cage, you know. And it's set all the time – it isn't set at the moment – not set at the moment, cos I've got sheep on the field – they tend to go in it for some reason and make a mess of it, so at the moment there's nothing – it's not set. But I'll put a road-kill rabbit or if I've had a chicken die, the chicken'll be in there. The fox'll go in there, pull on the – pull on the carcass – bump – the door closes behind him. The following morning, when I let me dogs out – I've got a couple of terriers here- all I say to them – go and check that trap – they know where they're going – off they go, and if they go down and come back I know there's nothing in it – I don't have to go down there – it's like, it's three/four hundred yards away. And if they're down there barking, I know I've got a fox, so then I go there with the do lead and the gun, drag the dogs away, dispose of the fox, and then reset everything and hope I get another one the following night, but you tend – once you've had one in there, you tend not to get one for a couple of weeks afterwards, cos they are territorial, you know, but – it's the vixens that cause the biggest – round here it's the biggest problem for me, with the poultry, you know. They'll come in the daytime and they'll keep coming until everything's gone. So – it's quite heartbreaking really, you know, because you've bred all these – but as I say with the sheep there's been a few taken but, it's nature innit. It's a battle – it always a battle – there's always something. Like last winter – not last winter, the winter before – it was the snow, wasn't it. You know, we're fighting the elements then – everybody – there was, there was thousands, tens of thousands of lambs died – and ewes – I lost two ewes here – for no apparent reason, like, I kept everything going – I spent, I spent three weeks up to me knees in snow – everything in the shed, and all I was doing, all is feeding and watering, cos it was so cold the water was freezing – they'd drink a lot of water. So it's just a battle – it's – it's never dull, there's always something different, you know. ID: You said something a while back that there's a place where you hang the foxes to sort of ward off . . . Yeah, once they're dead I hang them on the fence. A bit of a – what they call a – they used to call it a game-keepers gibbet – more than anything else to show that you're keeping on top of the foxes and everything. I don't know whether it's a deterrent or not, but they . . . deterrent for me, but you don't – once you've killed the – as I've said to you, once you've caught one there, it takes a while for another one to move into the area – and he must see that one hanging there and think – oh I'll go somewhere else perhaps, but I don't really know whether it does or doesn't really deter them. ID: Is there one – I mean is there a particular place? Oh yeah, there's one . . . ID: Is there one there now? There is, yeah – one I caught a few weeks ago, yeah, but – it'll be a bit manky by now, yeah. It's in the particular place down the bank there because we back on to houses down here. Most of the people that live round here they tend to, you know, they've been brought up in the country or what have you, so they know what's going on, but – it's not in everybody's face, you
  10. 10. know, it's out of sight down the bank and that. ID: But it's all part of the story isn't it. Yeah . . . Well there was a farm over the mountain called Tree-thee (?), and they used to call it Fox's Tails because he used to have a big massive – like a church door type, you know these arched doors – on his barn, and right across it was hundreds of fox tails, nailed to it – years ago. It's all been converted into a craft centre now, and I think now some of it's cottages. But when it was a farm and I'm going back 30 odd years ago – that was, there was all these foxes tails used to fascinate everybody, you know – to show that he was keeping on top of the foxes. ID: Did they used to hunt round here? It was just – cages and - ID: But was there a hunt? No, no no no no no. Those days have gone, haven’t they. It's the hunting with dogs act now. You can only use a maximum of two dogs. So it's really hard going, like I say I've got terriers here – I do shoot on the estate, and we do a bit of vermin control – and you can only hunt with two dogs. If you're trying to cover a large area of land it's not very particularly effective, you know. ID: I think you've already mentioned this, but I just want you to say – how much do you get for a lamb? I'm lucky because I sell the lambs in freezer packs. If I took them to market, live, I'd get round about eighty pound a piece – seventy/eighty pound a piece. From live (?) I have, like I said to you before, was – because my lambs are bigger they don’t really fall into the niche for the supermarkets, so mine tend to go to the local butcher type trade, you know, he tends to buy half a dozen at a time, so I'll have a pair of – say – six. They're not – the Suffolks or the Texals, which are the trademark that Tescos and Asda's going to buy, so I'll get seventy/eighty pound a piece for them, if I'm lucky. What I tend to do is – to get a lamb killed and cut up – so I take them to the slaughter house – they'll kill it – it gets really stringent, they inspect them on the way in – there's a vet there looking at them on the way in – they humanely kill them – slaughter them. Once the carcass is hanging up the vet will inspect them again to make sure there's no sign of any major diseases on them. Then the meat inspector will inspect the meat, and then you'll get to butcher the meat and cut it up, and that costs fifteen pound a sheep. So I tend – all I'll do with my customers is say, look if you want to go and buy your own sheep from the market – and then you've got to get it cut up – you're looking at 90 to a hundred pound to get it done. Go and do that if you want. But I'll sell the lambs – I'll go and (take?) ten of them up to the slaughter house, pick them up and deliver them round for again, say – I sell half a lamb for 45 to 50 pound depending on the size – usually 45 pound – and this year I was selling whole lambs for 90 pound. I did try a couple of years ago – because the lamb market was pretty buoyant, and lambs were fetching a hundred and odd pound – it was to do with – China were buying all the New Zealand lamb, so there was no big flood of New Zealand lamb into the country, and so the lamb prices went through the roof – hoo and I thought - you think to yourself pound notes – I'll make a bit more money here – and I started selling in the market. And I was doing – I wasn’t doing – I was doing all right – I wasn’t doing – when I looked at it I thought, well I'm not doing any better here because I was getting say a hundred pound a lamb, but again I was selling to the small butcher, you know, the Tescos and Asdas their buyers were passing me by, they weren't interested in what I was selling. And then the lamb market
  11. 11. settled down again – and then what I'd done then I'd turned my customers off, they'd gone elsewhere, so then I had to build up me customer base again, and I thought I've learned me lesson there – you learn, don't you – life's full of – every day's a school day innit. And I thought no no no I'll stay with my little niche of customers – I know I'm doing all right. They're getting a good deal on the meat – because lamb is very expensive isn't it, and I'm happy, you know, I'm doing all – I'm doing all right here, you know – any little bit of money I make I'll buy some pens or something for over the winter, you know. So I'm getting 90 pound for a whole lamb, say. But there's a lot of costs in there, as I say the killing costs you fifteen quid, so it's 75 pound isn't it – 75 pound. ID: Let's just get to the last question now. The last question is just basically just what's it all about? You know – you've got your own job – you've got this perfectly good job . . . I'm a maintenance manager with Airbus which is quite a high-tec, high-level engineering job, and we work long hours, so – but – the job that I do – because we're on maintenance and we cover the flatplan (?) 24/7 I do 4 on 6 off shifts, and I have done for quite a few years now – and you'll see some of the guys that I work with you, and you think, well they don't do anything on their days off, you know – but I've always had an interest in the small-holding and I've – I'm a country boy at heart, you know – this – I'm all for an easy life, you know, a bit of a low-tech life, and it's totally different to what I do at work – I might have a really bad day at work – come home, right – most people'd come in – ugh – sit in front of the telly – right – well, I don't, I go outside and I'll have a walk round. I might come home with a banging headache, and I'll have a walk round, check the sheep and take the dogs with me and a bit of a walk and take a small bucket of coal (?) and feed me chickens a bit of wheat, and come back in and I'm a totally different person – you know – it's, it's, it's a de-stress for me – though, saying that it does get quite stressful at times when you're doing the lambing, especially if things are going wrong – so you sometimes do wonder why you do it, but it – it's a way of life – it's, it's – and it is, it is a way of life because every day you've got to do something. We do have holidays – we do go away, but only usually once a year, and usually at a time when I've got very little for me eldest son to look after, so he just comes home from work and does these little bits and that, you know . . . ID: Is it too much to say that they're part of the family? Or is that being sentimental about it? To a certain degree. They've all got to go at some time, you know. I don't like – I don't like selling sheep at market that are going to go – I like to sell - I don't mind selling at the store sales, like I said, with the ewes with lambs at foot. I hate taking them to market and they're going to go in the cold trade, because you see all this halal meat and things like that, that they're not going to a slaughter house where they get humanely stunned before they're bled and things like that, and I think – hmm no I don't think . . . I would sooner shoot them on the farm and take them up to Cluttons which is the local knacker man, to know – because I don't like that side of – I don't, I don't want them to go – cos you, you see em, they're going hundreds of miles in cattle markets, unfortunately it's the way it's the way the trade is – the trade, it's more of a world- wide type thing now, isn't it, you know like if . . . food, you get all your feed – your food out of season don't you – they're on about seasonal food, aren't they, but I don't like that, cos yeah they are – they are part of the family, but the only ones that we name are the rams, cos they've got a pedigree name, so, you know so we know them by their name – and my youngest son who's ten, he's got a couple of sheep and he's named them . . . and they'll be here till the bitter end, so they're his pets, his pride and joy really, so - ID: But you've avoided calling them pets, though, haven't you?
  12. 12. Yeah, they're not, they're not, they're not pets. You know, there's too many of them to be pets. You know, there's no end of it. You do have – I've got a – I have got one ewe down there that's – is – a daughter of one of the first ever sheep I've bought, and she's got to be – she's got to be ten year old now, that one, cos the ewe that she came off was 15 years old when she died, and she lambed for me every year. And I kept her out of sentimentality because they were the first two I ever had, and so I've got a daughter down there. And she's old, but this year she's rewarded me with a pair of twins that – and she's got plenty of milk, and she . . . they really done well and they're the best in the shed, so I thought well she's not going anywhere, you know, but she's – she'll come to me and I can stroke her – I've got two that I can do that, they'll come to me and like I can, you know, they' – they're the first at the gate if you go there with some food and you can stroke their heads, whereas these Kerry Hills that I keep, they're wild as hell, they are really wild, you know like. They're not pets – they're definitely – they're semi- feral I'd say, they're really quite – if you go there with a bucket of food, they're the ones that are stood until you go out of the gate, you know, they won't come. Even though they get to know you, and you'll find after if you want to go up there filming where they are now – they'll clock us they won't come anywhere near you, cos you're a stranger aren't you, you know. But yeah there's a couple of them that you get quite sentimental about . . . . . . It's a thrill – especially when everything goes to plan. My sheep – the system that I've got is they're in the – it's more for the comfort of the farmer that the sheep, because I've got to go down there and check them at night – is I turn them out in the field in the morning by the house, so you just have to bit of a walk round, unless the weather's really bad, like, you know there's snow and that, then I'll keep them in the yard – in the shed over the day – and then they come in the shed at night. So – they're fed in the morning and out they go, and if it's a day like today with the sun shining, and you go out two or three hours later and you're rewarded – there's a ewe down the field – she's lambed – she's had two lambs, and they're up and stood up and everything's fine – it's great that, you know – really good. And I get a thrill out of that lambing you filmed when – she would have died, you know – there was no way she was going to have those lambs without me putting me hand inside, and both were born successfully and they're both still going now, and it's – you get a thrill out of that, you think – oh I saved their lives, you know. It's really sad to see the – you go out there and these . . . people – these big commercial farmers – they get – they're learning now, they get their sheep in the sheds and everything, cos they – it is a harvest for them, you know. But you do get the odd one that just leaves a lamb outside, and then you'll go past and you'll see em dead on the field like – it happened to a friend of mine the other week. I was driving home from Wrexham – and we do look out for each other, you know, if we see anything wrong we're on the phone to each other – we've all got each other's phone numbers – and – I – just driving home – cos I've got a pick-up truck so you're a bit higher up – I looked over, she's had a ewe lamb in the field with two lambs were dead. And I could see it, and I thought right – in full view of the main road as well – I thought, well somebody'll be on the phone. And I went home and rang him up, and he was actually in the field, and I know that he gets up – he's got 400 – and he – every two hours either him or his son is in that field. And . . . . the two lambs had died in that two hours, you know. It's really disappointing when something like that happens. ID: And what do you have to do? Well, if you're lucky – say you've got – the lambs have to be disposed of then – you've – I've got a big bag – you have to take them to Cluttons, and they'll charge you to get rid of the bodies, the same as you do with dead ewes, dead sheep. So you have a bag really, that you wait until the end of the lambing season and they're all in there and you take em down and they charge you 15 quid to dispose of them. But – if you're lucky you can foster another lamb, so if
  13. 13. you had triplets, and they really struggle, they've only got two teats – they struggle to - they struggle to rear three, so in the first week of their life you're looking really to say, well can I foster them across to another one that's got a single and she's got plenty of milk, or one that's lost its lambs. And so what you'll do is you'll get – she's got her lambs there – they're dead – you get her in the pen with the bodies, and she's still licking them – they push at them with their feet and their nose trying to get them to go, cos they know there's something not quite right. You can skin the lamb and put the skin on another lamb, and 99% of the time she'll take that lamb. I've actually done it this year – I had a ewe who had twins, and they were both dead – I tell a lie, one was dead and the other one lived 24 hours, and there was something wasn't quite right with it when it was born, you know, I had to stomach feed it – you put a tube down its throat and you syringe the colostrum into it, so you can milk it off the ewe – she had plenty of milk – put it into a jam – milk it into a jam jar and you draw it on a syringe and then you push it down the throat. We don't – it sounds a bit barbaric – you don't push it – you slowly push the syringe down into their belly – the tube's actually in the stomach, and you feed them up, and that makes a hell of a difference to them if – you'll have a lamb that's a bit – eurgh – he's half dead, and you'll put in there in the shed, heat the lamp and stomach feed him, and within a couple of hours he's like totally new – he's fine, you know – just hypothermic and a bit hungry. And the second lamb was dead the following morning, and I had a – the same night I had a ewe die with – she did originally have twins on her, and one of them died one - I found her dead the following morning with the lambs there trying to suck on her, like, you know. So I took the – I took the skin off the lamb and I put the skin on the lamb that's off the ewe that had died. Then I put the lamb off the ewe that had died – put the skin on it – put it in the pen – and that lamb was a week old, and I thought ppfff it might not take this one, but she did and she was fine with it, no problem at all. And after three or four days then we keep them in the pen – you don't let them out – after three or four days you can take the skin off, cos she's got the smell then – she's happy – and she knows, you know . . . the lamb, and yep no problem at all. She's been out on the field – I come home from work, and my eldest son has got them in – he's said we've got a problem with the lamb on the – in the yard, or summat down there. And it had had a like an epileptic fit – seizure – and it was stiff as a board, still alive, and this was the one that had been fostered across, and it must have had a – a knock as I thought at the time. A bit of investigation found, what they'd done, they'd got into one of the chicken sheds and ate a bag of chicken food, which is high protein pellets, and all the ewes that had got in there all had the runs, and the lambs all had – well apart from this one, it must, it just – it fed itself to death really. And I've had it before, it's called Pulpy Kidney – it's a disease that all your best lambs get, or they will do if you don't inject them, and I do inject against it, but not until six weeks old – you cant inject them until six weeks old – this lamb was about three week old. And I lost it, you know, it didn't matter what I did that night – it died. So she was then left again with a dead lamb, this ewe, and I'm thinking she's having no luck this year, and then my youngest son's got an old black ewe here, as I say that's going to be here till the bitter end, that one, and she had twins, and she only had enough milk for one, so I made sure it had the colostrum, took this massive skin off this lamb, because this little lamb wasn't very big, cut the skin in half – you've got to make sure that the tail's on there for the smell because when the lamb goes to suckle what they smell they smell the backsides – made a little coat for it out of the skin of the lamb, put it on, and yesterday was the first day they went out, and she's took it, and it's doing really well. It took a couple of days . . . ID: Is it black? No no no, they're not – the ewe's black, the lambs are white this time, cos the deal he's got is any lambs that are born black if they're ewes he gets them . . . to go in his little flock. He's only got one at the moment cos the other one died last year. So – and they were ram lambs anyway so they'll go for food, you know, for meat, so that's what we've done this year.