Flock dispersal was a difficult decision for farming family

Norfolk farmer David Cross with his Norfolk Horn Sheep. Photograph Simon Parker

Norfolk farmer David Cross with his Norfolk Horn Sheep. Photograph Simon Parker - Credit: Archant

After her husband took the difficult financial decision of selling his sheep flock, KATHRYN CROSS explains how today's sale at Newark market will affect her farming family in Wymondham.

This April is going to very different for the Cross family.

No worries about the weather, no midnight trips out to the barn, no heatlamp in the utility room, no endless mixing of powdered milk.

That's because for the first time in more than a decade there will be no lambing.

A couple of months ago my husband David, pictured, took the difficult decision to sell his sheep. He had grown his flock to about 600 in total and took great pride in them, carefully selecting quality rams to put to his ewes to produce some of the best commercial lambs available.

Over the past few years he has regularly topped the markets across East Anglia for price and quality, has won the championship at Norwich market's Christmas show and is highly respected among his peers.

But sadly the reality is, despite all his efforts and hours of work, the financial reward has become non-existent.

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To break even, he estimates every lamb he sells needs to make £65, just to cover costs – and that puts no value on his time. So while some markets have gone well and he has achieved a fair price of between £80 and £90, too many times he has returned home totally despondent. It is just too unpredictable and disheartening when you see all your hard work come to nothing.

The biggest hit to his profit margin has been grass rents. We don't have a big enough farm to keep all the sheep at home, so David has had to rely on renting land.

So with a heavy heart, his flock will go under the hammer at Newark market today.

They are all in lamb – ironically he had his best scan ever, achieving an average of almost two lambs per ewe.

That we put down to the mild winter and plenty of grass which has just kept on growing. But then we have to think that others will have had good scans as well and perhaps the markets will be flooded next year and prices could fall even further.

With forecasters predicting we may have snow for Easter it could be one of our best decisions ever. The farm won't be completely bereft of sheep, with the boys' pets staying and a couple of ewes who are scanned for quads. So what we do have left can come inside in the warm, whereas we would have normally lambed outside.

From the phone calls we have had inquiring about the sale there seems to be plenty of interest. And now people are realising David may have a bit of time on his hands there have been plenty of offers of contract work for him.

I just hope he gets the price he deserves for the sheep, and that this time next year we will look back with no regrets.

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