November means tupping time at Coopers Farm, when the rams go in with the ewes and the whole ‘sheep year’ starts over again.

But of course before that can happen there have been lots of behind the scenes preparations to make sure everyone is match fit and ready for action.

The spring lambs were weaned in August to give their mum’s a bit of ‘me time’, then last month we went through them all to check they were young and fit enough to have another successful lambing season. Each one gets a thorough MOT – starting with their teeth. Like all of us, sheep teeth wear out and fall out as the years pass, but in order to sustain a pregnancy and then milk a sound pair of gnashers is essential. So anyone with wobbly ones or missing ones is out.

Next, we check their teats. Not only are we checking to make sure they are soft and supple but they also have to be what might be termed ‘pert’. Some of the old girls get very low slung and there’s nothing sadder than seeing new-born lambs searching for a drink up where it should be when in reality the milk bar is almost trailing on the ground.

“Traditionally rams have always gone in with the ewes on Bonfire Night with the lambs arriving some five months later” 

Once we’ve decided how many of the ewes are staying and how many are leaving we make the numbers back up to about 75 with home-grown tegs – females born in spring 2018 destined to be first time mums. Then they get cosseted with delicious mineral supplements and the best grass the farm has to offer in order to flush them – encourage their ovaries to produce lots of eggs and then hopefully lots of twins.

And then of course there’s the other half of the equation, the boys! A ewe comes into season about every 18 days and young rams can manage to get round about 35 ewes at a time, so we have two. Each stays on the farm for a couple of years but by the third he would be serving his daughters and we’ve worked it that each year we change one and keep one. Back in the mists of time we bought an incredibly ugly ram – a Beltex, a breed which, while famous for having a magnificent arse, is not blessed in the looks department. He got called Boris Karloff and his deeply handsome colleague, a Southdown ram became George Clooney. Five months later when the lambs arrived it was pretty obvious that the girls didn’t worry too much about looks as we had rather more ugly Beltex lambs than pretty Southdowns. The name thing has continued over the years and Robert Mitchum, a smart blue Texel arrived on the farm a few weeks ago to join Jon Hamm for the 2019 season.

Traditionally rams have always gone in with the ewes on Bonfire Night with the lambs arriving some five months later from April Fools’ Day when hopefully the weather is better and the spring grass has begun to grow. 

But before they meet the girls they each get fitted with a raddle, a harness that holds a coloured wax block to the chest, which marks the rump of each ewe as he mates with it. The wax block is replaced every 10 days with a darker coloured block, so that the colour of the last liaison will overwrite any previous matings. 

All the action will be done and dusted by Christmas and while the girls will have plenty to be getting on with, it’s 10 months ‘me time’ for the boys. Hmm…

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