Here are a F'ewe' answers..
After many questions sent to us via our contact page it dawned on us that we probably needed to do an FAQ page... Not that we don't like the contact, we'd still love to hear from you if you can't find the answer you're looking for!
What do you feed the ewes on?
We feed the ewes on our farm pasture which is old fashioned meadow type grasses and clover which are not dependent on artificial fertilisers. In the winter we feed them on hay and haylage made on the farm. They are given an incentive in the form of a small scoop of ewe nuts to bring them into the milking parlour although now trained I think they'd come in willingly. This isn't their main food and we are currently looking into changing this for next season as nutrition is a very important part of keeping them fit and well. If you'd like more information we buy the nuts through Duffields, click here to their page about the food.
Do you use antibiotics?
The use of vet & med material is largely banned in lactating sheep and as an extensively (as opposed to intensively) run farm we are able to minimise the use of such items out of season. Similarly to any organic setup, we use certain medications and vaccinations where appropriate for the good of animal welfare but not as a matter of course. The animal's wellbeing always comes first.
Why do you only sell pasteurised sheep milk & not raw?
We do not bottle raw milk as we only use it to sell to our cheese maker, this is due to the rigorous testing it has to go through before we can sell raw milk to the public.
Our sheep milk is currently batch pasteurised at 145ºF/63ºC for 30 minutes and then cooled rapidly to retain a high percentage of the milk's natural enzymes and beneficial bacteria. This adds to the flavour and health benefits of the milk and it will last as long in your fridge as milk treated at higher temperatures that you'd buy in the supermarket. Our sheep are grass fed which helps to enrich the vitamins and minerals in the milk.
Where do the sheep go to shelter from the winter?
The ewes come indoors for lambing and during periods of prolonged bad weather. For most of the year they are truly free range. Even when it snows they seem quite happy to stick their noses in through the snow to find the grass, although we will provide them with additional food grown on the farm. Wherever they are (indoors or outside) there’s a constant supply of fresh clean drinking water available.
For what reason are you not organic?
Our ethos is to farm as extensively as opposed to intensively and as holistically as possible. We have chosen not to certify as organic because it can be time consuming, expensive and limiting on options for animal welfare. For example, there are seasons when grass might need a small boost from an artificial fertilizer to provide enough forage for the ewes. Most importantly, if our sheep need medication for their welfare we want to be able to treat them as quickly and effectively as possible.
How long have Top Paddock been milking sheep?
Our family have farmed here for almost fifty years. Firstly as a cow dairy and since 1983 as a sheep/arable farm. Sheep dairying is a new venture for us having stopped arable farming in 2008 and sold our main flock of Mule sheep at the end of 2013, so we are on a huge learning curve. Our first milking was on the 1st April 2014 - we're not fools!
How long can you milk a sheep for and what is the yeild?
When the ewes start lactating you can milk them once or twice a day, eventually they start to dry up after about six months. The ewes milk out in about 1 minute 30 seconds and give you 500ml to a litre or more a day. Milking is seasonal and they usually dry up in September and start milking again in April depending on when you lamb. Other dairies may have longer seasons but we like to give the ewes a break and use the off season to work on the farm.
Do you sell butter?
We don't produce butter at the moment. This is largely because the cost of milk production would make it quite expensive. However, some of our customers have purchased milk to try out their own. Small butter churns are available online.
Do you do farm open days?
A great many of our customers are interested in the provenance of their food and we're always happy to answer questions. We are hoping to join the open farm scheme, our open days will be targeted at education rather than 'play farm' to hopefully enhance the connection between our rural and urban communities. We do have groups visit us such as the local primary school, Beavers, Scouts and Brownies.
Do the lambs get to stay with their mothers and if so for how long?
All of our lambs are hand reared from 3 days old. As parents ourselves we ensure the welfare of all lambs is second to none and we are very proud of the lamb nursery - and never shy away from showing visitors to the farm. Leaving lambs on milking sheep can cause issues for mum with things such as mastitis and teat-biting being more commonly associated with long term suckling lambs. In terms of separation, our research shows that newborn lambs mob up in community groups and when they are transferred into the nursery they experience no signs of grief. Warmth and food is what their instinct demands and we supply unlimited amounts of both - plus plenty of cuddles from the numerous young helpers that join us at lambing time. The mothers flock instinct means they are happy to join their peers in the milking group and again display no ill effects from separation. It is hard not to apply human emotion to the ewe/lamb unit but they honestly have very different instincts us. Presumably this is why they show no signs of grief when lambs are still born.
What happens to older sheep who are no longer so productive?
Our ewes are milked once a day which puts very little pressure on their bodies. This means they have long and productive milking lives. When we decide they have reached the time to retire from the parlour they mostly spend their twilight years rearing their own lambs. They are not 'culled' as with more traditional commercial flocks. Our oldest ewe, Silver, recently passed away in her sleep under an oak tree which was a fitting end for a lovely old girl.