February is a busy month for farmers. Alex Dawson and Andrew Carpenter took a trip to Burton Overy to find out more.
If everything pans out, Harborough district farmer Craig Langton has got more than £45,000 stored away inside his pregnant ewes.
That’s 650 lambs in other words at £70-£75 a lamb.
If only that was all profit, but it isn’t of course.
The ‘overheads’ range from the mortgage and the cost of maintaining his 150 acre farm at Burton Overy, north of Market Harborough, to the endless expenses of maintaining a flock of 360 ewes and 10 rams - feed, vets and medication.
And then there’s the irritation of the supermarkets who will probably be able to sell that same lamb to the public for £150-£160.
Nevertheless, February is a critical month for Craig’s Manor Farm.
At the moment, he’s bringing the ewes into the barns, where their feeding and condition can be more easily monitored.
“My father had them out in the field” said Craig. “But just for management, it’s easier to have them here.”
“There are 97 ‘threes’ here and four ‘fours’” he added, indicating the restless ewes in the barns nearest the farmhouse - they know feeding time is close.
The Mail checks and - yes - he means ewes pregnant with triplets and quadruplets.
“It’s got more common in lowland flocks” said Craig. “Although it’s a real struggle to keep four alive.”
Craig and his 17-year-old son Jack rattle sacks of supplement evenly into the feeding trays, which the ewes rush to.
The stored green fodder or silage that feeds the sheep now has been sent away to be chemically analysed. The supplement makes up for anything that’s lacking in the silage.
Superfit sheepdog Belle dashes backwards and forwards with stacks of energy but no real job to do at the moment.
Meanwhile Craig is talking about the other things that add to his income - the 300 chickens, the tree surgery business he provides space for and the holiday cottage “in a conservation village in the beautiful south Leicestershire countryside”.
“Yes, diversification” smiled Craig. “We tick a few of those boxes!”
This is a better time to be a sheep farmer, now that the diseases of the past - from BSE to foot-and-mouth - seem (touch wood) to be dormant.
But Craig now has a new worry - Brexit. Contrary to popular belief, not all farmers wanted to leave Europe.
“We export 48 per cent of British lamb” he explained. “And almost all of it goes to Europe.”
He also sometimes wonders what will happen to the family-run farm in the future.
Craig’s son Jack (17), would be the fourth generation Langton to farm at Burton Overy - but dad isn’t sure that’s what Jack wants to do.
“I’m hoping he’ll come to see what a good thing we’ve got here” said Craig, who bought the farm - previous generations rented - in 1985. But it’s got to be up to him.”
* We plan to be back at Manor Farm next month, when 650 lambs are born!