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Diary of a Sheep Farmer - Tom Wheeler - Part One

on January 31, 2019

Look out...sheep are coming to Fussels!

Tom Wheeler, now the face of Tractor Ted known as Farmer Tom, is our local Sheep Farmer ….. I am going to be keeping in touch with Tom and his family so we can find out a little more of what life is like for him as a modern Shepherd. It all started with 5 ewes … given to Tom by his Grandfather for his 8th birthday! Not your normal type of gift, but the perfect one for Tom! Those ewes were kept for a year and then all the lambs were sold and the process started all over again. Buying and selling to gradually grow his small flock. I remember those days very well and recently found a photograph of Tom and Victoria with one of the lambs.

Currently Tom manages approximately 1800 Pure Dorset and Dorset Mule flocks with his 4 dogs. In late December/early January that number will rise to around 3000. The first lambs will start to arrive after Christmas. Gestation is 21 weeks. These ewes will predominately lamb in the Shed but will move outside as long as the weather is not too wet.

With this number of sheep and lambs to feed, there needs to be plenty for them to munch on and this is where we at Fussels come in. Shaun, our Farm Manager, has drilled some stubble turnips for Tom and in the early February, the Sheep will be in. They graze there for 6-7 weeks clearing the crop (which they are actively fertilising for us). The first two weeks they are nibbling away; 2 further weeks their digestive system is becoming used to the change from grass to turnips and the final 2/3 weeks are for fattening. They will clear all the tops and also eat the turnip bulbs. You will often see sheep and cattle grazing together. Sheep are great at clearing a field but are also used to feed around the boundary of fields; the cattle enjoying the rich nutritious grass. How fantastic to see a suckling calf, who will stay with his or her mother for 9 months.

Charlotte, Tom’s wife, together with children, Jack & Millie are often out around the fields with Tom. He says the kids can do most things on the farm ….. how refreshing to hear that they are not sat in front of a screen! And it’s not just sheep on the farm, pigs too!

They are often out fencing together, with the quad bike, and both get stuck in. As you can see Millie is not averse to riding a sow as well as ewes and her pony! No doubt the question on a Monday morning in school: ‘What did you do at the weekend’ will be totally different answer from most of the other children in their classes!

As far as the farm is concerned, Tom grows wheat and barley, managing most of the drilling himself. The barley and wheat straw is baled and used for bedding in the Shed at lambing time. Tom will be lambing until April ….. it’s quite a stretch without much sleep!

Then there’s hay to cut for silage and winter feed, but more about that as we move into another season.

Do let our Editors know if you have enjoyed reading this piece ….. as there is much more to share.

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Lizzy Etheridge with Tom Wheeler