July is sheep shearing month at Ruthven. All 800 need to be sheared, as soon as the weather allows and the fleeces start to peel around the sheeps’ necks. The whole family gets involved, with Jim shearing alongside a shearing contractor, and the rest of the family helping roll the fleeces, keep the pen full of sheep etc. It’s hard work, especially in the hot weather, but the sheep get tremendous relief from having their thick woolly jumpers removed! Different breeds produce different grades of wool. Blackface wool (the majority of our sheep) is coarse, and is used for making carpets. Wool from the mules is softer, and some will go to carpets, some to textile manufacture. Blue-Faced Leicester wool is very soft and is often blended with cashmere to make quality woollens. Shetland, Cheviot, Ryeland and Icelandic wool is all suitable for garments, with the Shetland and Icelandic wool especially popular with hand spinners.
Once the fleeces are rolled they are packed into giant sacks, according to their breed. These bags are then transported to a collection centre where the wool is graded and priced. You may be surprised at just how little a fleece is worth! A blackface fleece will fetch between 80p and £1, mule fleeces £1.20 - £1.80. A shearing contractor charges £1.40 per sheep to shear them, so the wool doesn’t even always pay for the cost of shearing. At the other end of the scale blue faced Leicester wool will make £2-3 per fleece – but we don’t have many of them!
Late July and early August are busy times with agricultural shows. We show our best mule ewe lambs and our Ryelands. This year we have had a very successful season, with several prizes. Through the season there is a show somewhere in the North East just about every weekend – they are a great chance for farmers to get a day away from the farm, show off their stock, meet friends that they may not otherwise see, and have a family day out. This year we had a trip to the Royal Highland Show, Turriff Show, Black Isle Show, and our local show at Grantown -on - Spey.
In between showing, we’ve had a lot of people visiting the farm this summer. This lovely group of folk visited Wild Farm in the morning, with Katy and Julian from Braemar Highland Experience, had a picnic lunch, then came to visit us in the afternoon. They met some of the show sheep, had a super walk (the weather was kind too!) during which they saw the dogs work to gather in sheep from the hill into an in-bye field. As well as being very proud to show our farm to visitors, we also love to meet them and hear their stories and views.
Last week we hosted a large farm event at the farm. Organised by the Moredun Institute and Crown Estate Scotland, the event looked at maximising grass and health for upland lamb production. We were extremely lucky to hear Charlie Morgan, who is an expert on grassland management, and travelled all the way from Wales to speak at the event. We also listened to an expert from the Moredun Institute who talked about managing internal parasites in sheep, and a vet who spoke about eradicating lameness in the flock. 80 farmers attended and enjoyed a walk to look at the farm as well as the lectures. It was all topped off with a barbecue in the evening.
Finally, we thought it would be good to introduce some of our “helpers” to the blog. So this month it’s the turn of Fly. Fly is a 12 year old border x bearded collie. She is the oldest member of the dog team, and ”knows it all” (or so she likes to think!) She came to us at 18 months old from a neighbouring farm, where the farmer was struggling to get her to work. She has been a loyal friend to us over the years, and the chief lambing dog as she is very good at separating off a ewe with problems and helping Jim to catch it. She gets to take it easy some days as she is now a pensioner, but she is still top dog and would really rather be working, in fact following a big operation earlier this year to remove a mammary tumour, she recovered like a dog half her age and was delighted when she was allowed to start working again.