I think I heard eye-rolling over the 'phone.
In truth, I'm far from any reasonable definition of 'farmer'. I have livestock, sure, but that includes a chicken with brain damage, a Labrador that licks the furniture, and a ewe that wags its tail when I pet her. As a rule, farmers don't pet their sheep, and I admit that I look forward to a morning cuddle with my friendly ewe.
I was recently reminded of my farming shortcomings while watching Countryfile, a show on the BBC about countryside stuff, though most people only watch it for the week's weather report. The celebrity farmer (yes such things exist) was helping someone purchase sheep to start her flock - Horned Dorsets as it happens. In fact, I had only picked out and purchased three new ewes earlier that week. Then I watched the farmer select the lambs by checking their udders and teeth were good. Of course! Udders and teeth. If they can't eat or produce milk, you're sunk before you start.
Shit. I forgot to check those when I chose my lambs.
I chose my lambs based solely on my (limited) knowledge of the breed standard. Essentially, it would be like going to a used car lot and saying "That red car's pretty!", kicking the tyres once, then writing a cheque for it. Thankfully, I bought my stock from Mr. Baker, a lovely gentleman who is a tireless promoter of the breed and encourages me in my burgeoning shepherdess role. He made some gentle suggestions when I chose which means I probably didn't buy a lemon. Or three.
The three new lemons / ewes in front. They have pink ear tags.
Note to self: check teats and teeth next time. It's bad when a TV show reminds you that you're ignorant.
All the remaining lambs born last year are ewes to be added to the breeding flock. I've amalgamated my flock so born ewe lambs, newly purchased ewe lambs, and mums-to-be ewes are all together now. That's 18 sheep in total - a proper starter flock. The sheep will just graze now until 20th October, when lambing starts.
But between now and then I can harvest yet another crop from my sheep: Poo. After the TV let me down, I turned to the radio for solace and Gardener's Question Time: a weekly Q&A programme with timely tips for the gardener. When asked what fertiliser made for the best tasting tomatoes, one expert said a tea made from sheep poo. Simply put poo in a hessian sack inside a container filled with water, wait an unspecified amount of time, and feed liquid to plants.
In case you didn't know what crap looks like
I have a penchant for experimenting and sheds to clean out which were awash in sheep poo, so it was a no-brainer. Everyone knows that the only things money can't buy are love and home-grown tomatoes.
I happen to have planted similar tomato cultivars on either side of the green house, so I'll feed one side my sheep tea, and the other a proprietary tomato feed only. The expert didn't give a standard or recipe for the Water:Shit ratio so I've opted for a barrel of water to a bucketful of shit, mostly because I had a barrel and a bucket to hand. This should indicate the rigour of my scientific inquiry to you. With any of my experiments, simply assume that it's the rigour of a woman drinking cooking wine out of a mug that came free from the pheasant feed merchant (It is, and I am.)
It has a lid - mandatory - to contain smells. So far I haven't noticed any.
If summer eventually comes to Britain and the tomatoes ripen, I will invite friends round for a taste challenge and post the results. If it works, I'll fit a spigot to the barrel and start my tea brewing a bit earlier in the year.
But, time and weather means my attention must turn from sheep to game: pheasants are going to wood, and a dry evening means I should put on my camos and see if I can bag a roe buck. The chiller's still on from hanging my lambs, and my extra Buff Orpington cockerel finally went in there today, after another stay of execution. Yesterday was our first day of sun in a long time, and I though he should enjoy it too.