A time of lambs and stubble turnips on the farm
The Young Farmer column, by Joe Rabicano
I have always been told the key to running a successful business is to take a series of measured , sensible and well-managed risks.
However as I looked out at 100 young lambs this month, wild as hawks , held in by only three flimsy strands of electric fencing , I really struggled to persuade myself that everything was under control.
Luckily I’m pleased to say that so far, touch wood, none have escaped despite numerous attempts as they spook at pretty much the slightest noise.
They have been busy munching away and are now at a prime weight for the Christmas market, when lamb prices reach probably their second highest peak of the year, hopefully bringing me a tidy earner.
The lambs in question are what’s known as store lambs; they are young lambs at the right age for meat, however currently too skinny.
They were not born on my farm, rather somebody else’s, who maybe does not have the time, space, or food to fatten them. So I buy them and provide them with the food to get them to a certain weight, with a certain amount of fat, then sell them on.
It’s not a case of trying to get the biggest lamb possible, rather there are specific target weights to aim for to get the highest prices, set out to suit what the majority of consumers want.
All-in-all it will have taken a total of eight months to get these lambs on to someone’s plate. Throughout this time, my lambs will have passed through the hands of some 10 people, all with different roles, from lorry drivers to farm workers, to auctioneers in markets.
So as you hopefully tuck in to some British lamb over the Christmas feasting period, or any meat for that matter , just spare a thought for the numerous people working hand in hand to ensure that food reaches you as fine as it can possibly be.
As well as hopefully providing some excellent meat, my lambs are also doing a great service to 13 acres of West Norfolk soil, which should hopefully have lasting effects for years to come.
This is the first year I have grazed stubble turnips, which is where turnip seeds are sown into wheat or barley stubble on arable land, they grow incredibly quickly to around 2ft in four months or so and can then be grazed by sheep.
The turnips have been shown to reduce soil loss due to wind, a huge problem in Norfolk , they also leach nitrogen into the ground and the sheep fertilise the soil as they eat, all of huge benefit to the arable farmer.
This should greatly reduce his need to use artificial fertilisers later on in the year, and while I am a huge fan of modern farming this is really a case of going back to more traditional mixed farming methods, far better economically and environmentally, as well as allowing co operation between different farmers.
I really hope it becomes a more and more common site, and there is sufficient promotion in the wider media of how farmers are thinking of ways to become more environmentally friendly.
Despite lambs taking up a fair bit of my time, as well as work, and the shortening of the days not helping , I did manage to wangle a morning to be interviewed by BBC Radio 4.
They were keen to hear my story but also pleasingly very keen to hear from the people who have helped me along the way.
It was fantastic to get together the Norfolk County council land agent, my father and a mentor of mine so they could get the credit they deserve for getting me to the place I am now.
I’d finally like to wish them and all readers a very Merry Christmas and in the interests of trying to get the best price I can, please all eat as much as possible.