It seems not much has happened other than lambing sheep – so I have shared some news from my sheep friends from around the world:

In France, the report was of a dry spring with some winter barley already harvested as haylage because of poor yield potential and low forage availability, but hay ready to cut.

The strict lockdown is now over, but as essential work, it didn’t have a massive impact on farms. The important Easter lamb market was a big concern because of loss of family get-togethers.

Good market communication prevented a market collapse, but a lot of lambs are still on-farm, creating uncertainty. Consumers are more aware of the origin of their food and more farmers have made direct sales – the hope is this will be ‘the new norm’.

New Zealand seem to be always half a day ahead of us – something to do with where the sun is, I believe – and schools and businesses are open this week.

Social distancing in processing plants cut throughput and led to a three to six-week delays for slaughtering but almost back to 100% now and a mild late autumn/early winter has alleviated the extra stock on farm.

For an export driven nation, initial market closures led prices to dive, but looking more positive now as the western world emerges from lockdown.

If the virus has highlighted one thing, it is that no matter what, the world still needs to eat! City dwellers are quickly realising the importance of agriculture as it is holding the economy afloat to a large extent – tourism (which was the highest GDP earner), completely stopped with border closures and won’t be opening in a hurry.

Dad’s brother in Western Australia spoke of strict movement restrictions of people resulting in a tight control of the virus and no cases transmitted in WA. Stock values were buoyant anyway, but additional demand on breeding ewes and heifers to re-stock in the Eastern States after drought breaking was increasing prices more.

Our sheep friend from Germany, who herds his flock daily over open military land, suffered late snow at lambing time and a slow start to grass.

Back home, calving is nearly through with 198 calves tagged out of 217 scanned in-calf, nine weeks exactly from due-date, and few enough left to calve to make 100% unachievable – but happy and a big reduction in the calving spread.

Moving pedigree Simmental cows from summer/autumn calving (which was to suit ages for bull sales), to all spring has improved our management of them and gives better contemporary groups for data for producing EBVs.

Jim Smith, who runs the calving shed, is excited at the prospect of being finished calving well in time for the Highland Show for once! The calving jack has had to be used five times so far and we haven’t had to social-distance from the vet for that reason – a testament to Jim’s patience and Brian’s winter diet-control.

Field work is progressing well, with no wet days and tractor-folk happy to keep working with not much else to do in the evenings and at weekends. What was looking like a very tight window, is now pretty much up to date.

We have two grass reseeds just poking through and another almost ready to sow, but swede ground will need to take priority with the contractor coming this week.

I am keen to trial incorporating a bit of slurry into the top couple of inches of soil before sowing swedes in a bid to hold moisture, but perhaps just on a wee corner to see what happens. They have had a poor start over the last couple of years due to lack of rain.

Grazing fertiliser is mostly on, other than fields still full of young lambs and we feel grass is ready to go with the predicted heat coming.

Lambing is just about over – there must be under 50 to go with the last lot just passing 17 days. Sleep is now getting caught up on!

Most of our work around lambing time is recording – tagging lambs, making sure they are attributed to the correct mother, taking lambing behaviour scores, and birthweights – and we ring tails, castrate (some), scratch for orf and colour code a spray number for sire at the same time.

Up to 95% of this data is pretty straightforward to gather – catch a pair in the field, zap the mother’s EID, weigh, ring, tag, beep, beep, spray and go. The time-consuming bit is working out the mother of the triplet that was lifted to twin-on, which didn’t work, spent a day in the pet pen then got a third mother on a busy day!

We work an Agrident reader that is older than our kids – it is basic technology but robust. It doesn’t record everything we want – so we keep a lambing book as well, which also acts as a fail-safe (it’s an age thing – you will probably snigger, in the same way we do when dad suspiciously scribbles on the back of an envelope to check if the calculator was telling the truth)!

Birth weight is a new procedure and is a bit of a pain outdoors – but the data is required to get lamb survival EBV. If we get scanning percent and lamb survival right in the maternal line, we are a long way along the road to an efficient ewe flock – getting the lambs to hit spec’ is the easy bit.

Where the quad comes into the sheep shed, we put a white board up with ‘reasons for lamb deaths’ and we try to put a mark on for every lamb lost. It’s not 100% accurate, but gives an indication of what is going on.

Most losses this year have been split between unknown stillbirth and difficult births (mostly misrepresentations and some hung singles). Unusually no lambs have been recorded as ‘chilled’ – there is usually at least one bad day!

Predators have not been a big problem either, thanks to next-door’s ‘keeper.

Not all ewes are recorded, but the programme for the recorded ones tells us we have recorded 779 ewes lambed so far, running with 170% – just short of 10% lost. That is the most recording we have done – with the second highest number of ewes lambing in total too – so our time gets spread a bit thinner.

We have benefited from a lot of help from Tally and Angus – I’m afraid their schoolwork may have suffered a bit, but we have really appreciated their work!

Lambing will be remembered for great family time, tanned faces, funny hair-do’s, no need for the new leggings and plenty lambs. Happy times, when much of the country’s been suffering.