Landlines: Ram breeders should put business before good looks

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Last week’s short heatwave produced the usual rash of “Phew! What a scorcher!” headlines and advice on how to cope with these astonishing conditions. We seem to react to the occasional hot spell with the same incredulity as we do to occasional spells of heavy snow.

The hot weather advice was superfluous for most of our area anyway, as temperatures came nowhere near the 36 degrees record in the south of England. Air-conditioned tractor cabs and mechanisation that has made jobs like hand-singling turnips redundant mean that we’ve come a long way since the genuinely hot summer of 1975 persuaded one of the old-time farm workers to comment that he’d got so warm loading hay bales that he’d unloosened the top button on his shirt.

If still about he’d be astonished at what today’s farmers and farm workers unloosen in hot weather. Shorts and singlets, with or without tattoos, are not a good look for everyone, or in my opinion suitable for farm work. But my tentative advice has so far been ignored.

I’m not disheartened because over the years I’ve become an expert on ignored advice. It simply takes time for the world to catch up and realise I’m right. Or at least some small part of the farming world, such as Blackface sheep breeders.

I’ve argued for years that ridiculously high prices for Blackface rams based on nothing more than good looks – ‘grand head, wonderful bone structure’ etc. – with no reference to commercial production is a nonsense. The result, as I’ve also admitted, is that in the time I’ve been criticising this nonsense surrounding a ‘magic circle’ of breeders exchanging silly prices the record price for a Blackface ram has gone from £4,000 to whatever it is now, probably £100,000 and more.

Recent correspondence in The Scottish Farmer magazine suggests there is hope for common sense. The most recent letter, from an organisation called the Maternal Sheep Group notes: ‘Commercial Blackface flockmasters need fast-growing, fleshy, wether (male) lambs to pay their bills and hardy, maternal ewes that need minimal intervention.’

The letter adds: ‘All too often the potential stock tups they are offered at sales are overfed show specimens, reared under a much kinder regime.’

How long, oh Lord, how long, I used to wonder before more breeders saw those sentiments as common sense. Could it just be that the tide is finally turning against the over fed and over priced rams? As the letter concludes: ‘Tup producers should strive to produce functional, recorded stock that are fed sensibly.’

What a happy day that would be, at least for me.