Proud Par­ents

In the last of the se­ries, Jack Smel­lie dis­cusses how to mea­sure suc­cess, make tough de­ci­sions and en­joy the breed­ing jour­ney

Country Smallholding - - Inside This Month - Breed­ing, by Jack Smel­lie

They can be heart-stop­ping mo­ments: the first time you see a calf, cov­ered in birthing fluid, slither un­con­trol­lably to the ground; the mo­ment you wit­ness a chick un­fold it­self as its eggshell fi­nally splits in two; the sigh of re­lief you make when the se­ri­ously wob­bly kid finds its mum’s teat for its very first drink. New life never fails to make an im­pres­sion and wit­ness­ing an an­i­mal’s birth is ex­cit­ing, re­ward­ing and hum­bling.

The ac­tual birth is, of course, just the start, but in those few min­utes the hard work of get­ting your an­i­mals mated, feed­ing them through the win­ter and mon­i­tor­ing the preg­nan­cies, all feels worth it. As we watch and touch this new life, the mud is for­got­ten, the frozen pipes are for­got­ten and so is the fact that we al­most ran out of hay. As we watch and touch this new life, ev­ery­thing feels pos­si­ble again.

And even bet­ter, we then have the priv­i­lege of see­ing our young stock grow and change, adapt­ing to their en­vi­ron­ment, de­vel­op­ing re­la­tion­ships with their par­ents and sib­lings. And some­times we may get the feel­ing that the an­i­mal(s) in front of us are go­ing to be spe­cial: pos­si­ble show ring con­tenders or some­thing with great fleeces or mark­ings. They may start to demon­strate de­sir­able char­ac­ters or con­for­ma­tion.

As has been men­tioned in this se­ries, suc­cess­ful breed­ing is de­fined by ex­pec­ta­tions. Some­times it is suc­cess­ful be­cause it ex­ceeds our hopes. On other oc­ca­sions, ex­pec­ta­tions may be dashed, but a change in di­rec­tion may still re­sult in a suc­cess­ful con­clu­sion. And some­times you may get ex­actly what you hoped for. But suc­cess­ful breed­ing is also de­fined by at­ti­tude: things may not have gone quite to plan, but you can still de­cide that you have ended up with some great stock.

It is the lot of the small­holder to learn to adapt to the un­adapt­able, the not-quite­go­ing-to-plan and to make the best of what each day throws at them.

My own suc­cess at hatch­ing 12 rare breed West of Eng­land goslings (seven males

and five fe­males) was a lit­tle dented when I lost three in quick suc­ces­sion: two to rats and one to be­ing sat upon. And, of course, all three were fe­male. Then I man­aged to hatch just one from each of my next three batches, re­sult­ing in three or­phan goslings of dif­fer­ent ages that I had to raise (ini­tially) in­di­vid­u­ally. I ended up with a trio of very tame geese who now fol­lows me ev­ery­where and with whom I am ut­terly en­tranced. In terms of numbers, it was not a suc­cess­ful breed­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, but for the joy of get­ting up close and per­sonal to th­ese charm­ing birds it was a mas­sive hit.

Ev­ery breed­ing ex­pe­ri­ence of­fers some­thing to learn from, to take suc­cesses from and then to do even bet­ter next year.

Mea­sur­ing suc­cess

So how do we mea­sure the suc­cess? For most of us, the an­swer is a very per­sonal one based on our ex­pec­ta­tions and at­ti­tude. Two small­hold­ers may have ex­actly the same breed­ing ex­pe­ri­ences and while one may sing their suc­cesses from the rooftops, the other may choose to shut the barn door and walk away, head hung low. Let us now look at some of the mea­sur­ing cri­te­ria in de­tail:

Cash con­sid­er­a­tions

For many small­hold­ers, money is a key fac­tor. Break­ing even is a well-used phrase and is of­ten what many strive to achieve. For oth­ers, a small profit is es­sen­tial, while for some they are con­tent to ac­cept that what they are do­ing is a hobby or a life­style that en­sures they have happy meat/ veg­eta­bles and/or a stress-free ex­is­tence. As long as they can still pay the mort­gage/ rent/bills, they don’t worry about the spread­sheets. It would, how­ever, be daft to con­stantly breed stock at a loss wouldn’t it? This is surely more a sign of a poorly man­aged breed­ing pro­gramme and/or un­der­valu­ing the an­i­mals con­cerned?

Are you in it for the money?

Work­load is of­ten ig­nored in the world of small­hold­ing other than to ac­cept that if small­hold­ers worked out their hourly rate and com­pared it to the min­i­mum wage they would be break­ing the law. There are two ways of look­ing at the whole money is­sue — if you are try­ing to make money from your small­hold­ing, you don’t need (or even want) to work out your hourly wage, you just need to know if you have enough money to live on and to keep do­ing what you are do­ing.

The sec­ond way of deal­ing with the work­load is­sue is to look at it in terms of en­joy­ment. A friend of mine built up a suc­cess­ful pork busi­ness, was sell­ing to a va­ri­ety of good out­lets and end­ing each day shat­tered. She turned to her hus­band one morn­ing as they were slog­ging their way through piles of pig ma­nure and said: “Are you en­joy­ing this any more?” The money was good, the feed­back was ex­cel­lent, but the work­load made them de­cide to re­claim their lives. Surely if you are not en­joy­ing what you are do­ing any more, even if you have made money, how can you claim to have had a suc­cess­ful year?

Be hon­est with your­self

De­spite hav­ing said ear­lier that if things don’t quite go to plan you can still claim a suc­cess­ful breed­ing sea­son, it is still

Suc­cess­ful breed­ing is de­fined by at­ti­tude. Things may not have gone quite to plan, but you can still de­cide that you have ended up with some great stock

cru­cial to be hon­est about match­ing your ex­pec­ta­tions with your out­comes. I may have fallen in love with the small num­ber of geese I raised and thor­oughly en­joyed the ex­pe­ri­ence, but the re­al­ity is that in match­ing the or­ders I had over­all and felt I could achieve against the ones I ac­tu­ally man­aged to ful­fil, I was adrift by more than 50%. Some of this is eas­ily ex­plained and solved. I have re­sponded to the rat prob­lem by build­ing a to­tally rat-proof aviary where, next year, I can house the vul­ner­a­ble goslings at night. An­other is­sue was that the geese didn’t re­ally set­tle enough in one place to con­tin­u­ally lay eggs, so my part­ner, David Chidgey, and I even­tu­ally cre­ated a ded­i­cated goose stall which they were happy with. Next year this will be avail­able to them from the start of the lay­ing sea­son. The poor hatch rates in our later sets is harder to solve, although I may try re­li­able brood­ies more than the in­cu­ba­tor next year, as well as be­ing even more care­ful about mon­i­tor­ing tem­per­a­ture and hu­mid­ity. I have a the­ory about the poor fer­til­ity rates in the later hatches. Hav­ing hatched our first 12 goslings in the in­cu­ba­tor, I then re­turned them to their par­ents to bring up. Did this then stop Tom, our gan­der, from be­ing as ac­tive with his mat­ing? Quite pos­si­bly.

What­ever an­i­mals you breed, it is cru­cial to look back and an­a­lyse like this. It is also cru­cial to keep records, es­pe­cially when deal­ing with large numbers. If you are go­ing to have any chance of be­ing even more suc­cess­ful next year you need to know where the suc­cesses and fail­ures were for each in­di­vid­ual an­i­mal you bred.

Tough de­ci­sions

If you have stock that un­der­per­forms for what­ever rea­son you have to ask your­self if it should re­main a part of the breed­ing pro­gramme. This can be a per­sonal thing. A favourite ewe may have dif­fi­culty birthing, but her lambs may end up be­ing a fab­u­lous size and qual­ity. You may keep her, an­other small­holder may not. Some sheep breed­ers will cull any ewe that loses a quar­ter or is bro­ken-mouthed. An im­per­fectly marked pedi­gree an­i­mal may be re­jected by one breeder, but still be used by an­other be­cause most of the time the off­spring it pro­duces are more than ac­cept­able.

Tough de­ci­sions may have to be made and th­ese will de­pend en­tirely on what you are try­ing to achieve. There are no rules. If you want to ‘carry pas­sen­gers’ — or not — that is up to you. Judg­ing your suc­cess this year is as much about plan­ning next year to be even bet­ter as it is about the ac­tual suc­cesses you have achieved al­ready.

Happy and healthy

Healthy, happy an­i­mals are surely the ul­ti­mate aim of all small­hold­ers, what­ever crea­tures they keep on their prop­erty and for what­ever rea­son. As I type this I am look­ing at our sheep. David and I lambed six ewes this spring (Badger Face and Shet­land) and while I may have wished for more dou­bles (we had three dou­bles and three sin­gles), the re­sult­ing nine lambs are per­haps the best we have ever had. Worm­ing is­sues to date have been neg­li­gi­ble, feet is­sues nonex­is­tent and we have had no scour. All were reared by their mums and after just three months most are now al­most the size of the adults with fleeces to die for. So far so good. The ul­ti­mate suc­cess will only per­haps come when we have sold those we want to sell and the rest are in the freezer, ready to cook for vis­it­ing friends and fam­ily, at which point we hope at least one per­son will say: “The lamb is so tasty we don’t even need the mint sauce.”

Be proud of your­self

Suc­cess in the show ring, get­ting per­fect mark­ings, bet­ter than av­er­age hatch rates, hit­ting the mar­kets ex­actly right and get­ting a top price for your stores… per­sonal suc­cess is only re­ally mea­sur­able against your own ex­pec­ta­tions. For any small­holder, the first time they hatch their own chick­ens is a mas­sive suc­cess. Three or four years down the line, they will prob­a­bly have raised the bar and are look­ing for 75%-plus hatch rates or a re­turn on their in­cu­ba­tor in­vest­ment. Per­sonal achieve­ments are just that — per­sonal — and feel­ing proud plays a huge part.

It is of­ten said that the next breed­ing pro­gramme needs to be planned the minute the first off­spring hits the ground. Breed­ing fe­males need look­ing after to raise good stock and so that they re­main in good con­di­tion for mat­ing in the au­tumn. As each new an­i­mal is born, fu­ture breed­ing stock needs to be sourced: that per­fect male. As the numbers of off­spring build, start the sums to work out what gets sold, what is kept and what win­ter fod­der will be needed and for how many. That way you will be in a strong po­si­tion moving into the fol­low­ing spring.

But in be­tween it all it is im­por­tant to find the time to en­joy the jour­ney.

Some­times it is dif­fi­cult to know what the suc­cesses are go­ing to be un­til they hap­pen. It is al­ways good to plan, to be am­bi­tious, to have goals. As small­hold­ers we can of­ten ex­per­i­ment and push the bound­aries. Plan­ning for suc­cess is ex­cit­ing, while find­ing un­ex­pected suc­cess is a bonus.

Dotty was one of a set of bot­tle-reared twins born to a mum with twin lamb dis­ease. Owner Andy Lawrence from Devon says: “This was our first ever lamb­ing and a real bap­tism by fire”

Car­los, an An­glo-Nu­bian billy, was home bred in Devon by Joyce Greenslade. Aged just seven months, he sired th­ese amaz­ing kids in 2017 and more in 2018. “And then we lost him to an un­known in­fec­tion,” says Joyce. “We were to­tally gut­ted”

Maya was Carolyn Bai­ley Kokta’s first ever home-bred Arab. “She fought a va­ri­ety of ail­ments, in­clud­ing a hole in the heart, to be placed at the Horse of The Year Show aged only six. She is my third ‘daugh­ter’ and has brought me huge joy and pride,” says Carolyn

Dani Pe­g­ley’s Barnie is the first Sil­ver Barn­evelder to beat the com­mon chest­nuts at the Na­tional Poul­try Show. She achieved re­serve cham­pion.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.