If you lamb one of the early sheep breeds, you’ll either be in the thick of it, or about to start. So, the best of luck in getting much time off when many find themselves able to down tools for at least a few hours off during the festive season.

This means Charollais sheep breeders might already be finished with their lambing. Suffolk breeders will be about to start – from the traditional January 1, of course – and it’s not that long ago when yours truly was up at all hours of the night to ensure safe passage (and sometimes not) of the Suffolks we used to have.

When we first bought the black heads, they came from Southholm, where the irrepressible late Jock Allan was the man to deal with. He was, as many breeders of British Friesians, Suffolks, and more latterly, Beltex, found out an easy man to deal with and all of it came with some free advice.

When asked how much to feed the pregnant Suffolk ewes – in those days you had to have five to make a registered flock – his answer was quite simple: ‘Not too much before they lamb, but treat them like a dairy coo after they lamb.’ It was so true ... if only they produced as much milk as a dairy coo.

It was sound advice. It was sometimes harder to follow with his latter choice of Beltex, where no pre-lambing feeding at all was the routine – but sometimes Jock’s heritage would inadvertently kick-in! The results, as any breeder will tell you, are sometimes horrendous, and many a vet bill went up – a Caesar is not a cheap option!

Soon it will be the turn of the Texels to bring forth their next generation and it is with those three aforementioned breeds that, in the words of the song ‘there may be trouble ahead ...’ So many breeders, emboldened by what have been strong and, indeed, record-breaking years for their breeds have increasingly turned to ET work to speed up the process of replicating the best genetics.

The upshot is that we now have fairly large flocks of large and roomy cross sheep carrying and then lambing pure-breds from an ever-declining genetic range, which does nothing for the evaluation of lambing ease or milking ability in the natural parents, two of the cornerstones of successful breeding. Inevitably, this moves pedigree sheep breeding further and further away from ‘reality’. It certainly does nothing to enhance any breeds in terms of ‘easycare’ traits.

Should we worry about this in what are largely terminal sire breeds? Well, yes, we should because as sheep leave the hills and uplands in droves due to afforestation and/or renewable projects, then lowground flocks of crosses of these breeds are increasingly the order of the day.

For much the same reason, we should question whether the mothering ability of some of our specialist hill breeds is being compromised by – in the first instance – indoor lambing; and in the second instance, by the use of ET, even if it only on selected females.

I once read a book by a legendary sheep breeder who said if he found a Blackie that had lambed in a ditch, he shot the sire of that ewe because it had not bred enough hardiness and survivability into his offspring. Nowadays, the high value of sheep is resulting in many entries at sales that have been the result of too much indoor pampering which arguably has led to a reduction in a natural ability to thrive in hostile environments.

Potentially, we now have a range of breeds where there might not be a usable teat between them and a lack of ability to lamb themselves, all being replicated in some numbers. Flock visits in the past would enable prospective buyers to view prospective purchases running with their natural mother, but nowadays there are quite a few flocks of half-a-dozen or a dozen donor ‘dams’ and 50, 60, or even 100 lambs running with cross ewes.

The upshot of all this, is if a breed has an evaluation for Estimated Breeding Values or the like, as part of any improvement programme, then this surely must be compromised – at least for the beginning of any ET-bred sheep’s life – by the milking ability of the recipient mother?

We would hope that it never gets to the stage where some breeders of dairy cattle find themselves that a natural ability to breed was compromised by many decades of AI use resulting in a vulva that had gradually moved up into the tail – or as we would say in Scotland, ‘too close to the erse’.

It’s not an easy problem to fix, but one that needs to be addressed for the long-term viability of any of the breeds that have embarked down this route. For those farmers in the midst of lambing, that’s no comfort but maybe it should give them pause for thought about next year’s planning.

For all farmers at this time, I wish you all the tidings of the season and sincerely hope that all your hard work will be recognised more fully than it is at present. This coming year will, hopefully, ensure that the decision-making you will have to make to meet the aspirations of the new Scottish Agriculture Bill will be clearer – but ‘I look and fear’.

I suspect that the exodus of cows and sheep from the hills so desired by the green tinge in Government at all levels is already inexorable. It cannot now be reversed by anything other than a concerted effort to protect our national herds and flocks from rampant and sometimes indiscriminate tree plantings and an apathetic governance. Looks like we will have some big votes to make next year in a general election, so the next few months will be crucial for the industry to make its voice heard.

Your vote is as good as the next person, so give your prospective and incumbent politicians a verbal whack with an alkathene pipe! There are a lot of voices out there trying to be heard, just make sure your is amongst them and be relentless about it, because that’s what the anti-farming lobbies do!