Ever since our sheep caught foot-rot from a neighbouring young farmer, who had borrowed one of our rams to get his flock started, we’ve tried our best to run a so-called ‘closed flock’. The farmer in question didn’t have much money and had decided to start his new enterprise by buying a pen of cull ewes at market. Now cull ewes are just what they seem: ewes that are either too old, or have some other problem, usually to do with their udders, which make them unreliable as mothers to young lambs. Had I known that he’d done that, I wouldn’t have lent him one of our rams. Anyhow, one or more of the ewes that were in the same field as our tup carried a virulent strain of foot-rot. It was a damp autumn that year, and the infection soon spread to our ram. Sadly, we didn’t detect it until a few weeks later, by which time it had been transmitted to all our rams and then into the ewes. It spread like wildfire when we brought the in-lamb ewes into the barn for the worst weeks of winter. And I’ll never forget the horrible smell of rotting live flesh – it pervaded everything.
That outbreak was disastrous: ewes couldn’t stand to feed their lambs; then, a few weeks later, they couldn’t graze properly and were constantly short of milk. That summer we had to cull about half the flock. By then we’d started to inject with an expensive foot-rot vaccine, which took about three years to get completely on top of the problem. I reckon that foot-plague cost us about £5,000, not to mention the terrible suffering it inflicted on the poor sheep. Normally, we love lambing, but not for two years, when, frankly, it was sheer Hell.
So to avoid repeating this disaster we never buy-in replacement ewes, preferring to breed-on ourselves, which is why we have three blood-lines – and three rams. This ‘closed flock’ system works remarkably well until, that is, you get the first signs of in-breeding . Last spring, for example, we had a lamb born with a cleft-palate and another with a mal-formed jaw. I’m fairly certain these are problems to do with in-breeding – and anyhow, it was high time we bought-in new blood-lines. So that’s how we found ourselves driving due west towards the little town of Meifod, in Powys. A few weeks earlier the farmer there, Mr. Bennett, had phoned us ‘on spec’: were we interested in buying rams? It was as if he’d been reading our thoughts.
Anyhow, after a four-hour drive through the increasingly congested roads of the English northern Midlands, we reached Upper Hall Farm and were treated to a delicious lunch of Lasagne prepared by his daughter. Later we waddled out into the field as the rams were brought into the handling pen, by a wonderful, and completely silent, Border Collie, who had been superbly trained by our host. I don’t think I have ever seen a pen of better-looking rams. They were superb. If Lleyns have a fault as a breed, it’s a tendency to have rather short bodies; so breeders are always on the look-out for ‘length’. And I have never seen such body length, as on those rams; there wasn’t a short one among them.
So if you’re a sheep farmer and you’re looking for a cracking good Lleyn ram for the autumn tupping season, may I strongly recommend Mr Bennett of Hall Farm (Twitter: @BENNETT____)? You’ll never regret it, I promise. Never. We bought two and will collect them shortly. And they’re as good as the picture here shows. We tend to name our rams, as this makes it simpler to think about blood-lines. Previous rams have included the fathers, sons, grand-sons and great-grandsons of Monty, of Tex, of Carlton, of Brian, of Corby and of Glen . Anyone care to Tweet some suggestions for our two new boyos (@pryorfrancis)?