In this week’s sheep segment, That’s Farming profiles Scottish cattle, pig and sheep farmer, Nicola Wordie. In this segment, we discuss the farm’s foundation, the breeding enterprises, lambing season, her targets and prospects, and the ups and downs of farming life.
“I was born and bred on the farm,” – that is how Nicola Wordie (23), a third-generation farmer describes her striking passion for farming, which blossomed from the age of ten.
She grew up on a sheep and suckler enterprise in Aberdeenshire, North East Scotland, with her earliest memories revolving around springtime “karting pet lambs around in my buggy”.
She is employed full-time on the family farm, which comprises 850- breeding ewes, 240-strong cows plus followers, and a seasonal pig fattening unit.
Scottish cattle and sheep farmer
Her grandfather purchased the farm, based in North East Scotland, in the 1950s, as she tells That’s Farming:
“The farm is in one whole block, with the ground level going from 500 to 1,000 feet at the top of the hill. At present, the farm comprises 1,400 acres, all of which we own.”
Moreover, Nicola’s parents, Margo, and George, now own the farm. She commenced working full-time here following the completion of her HND in Craibstone, Aberdeen.
With the farm containing both a suckler and sheep enterprise, Nicola is kept busy 365-days a year.
“The cattle herd comprises Simmental-cross suckler cows, which we put to the Charolais bull. Furthermore, we purchase our breeding heifers from the Republic of Ireland.”
“We have a spring and autumn calving system. We sell progeny when they are one-year-old.”
In addition, Nicola also fattens pigs on the farm every two years.
Regarding the flock, Scottish Mule, and pedigree non-registered Texels are the main breeds. In turn, these breeding ewes are all tipped with pedigree Texel rams to produce a Texel-cross lamb.
“We have chosen Mules are the predominant breed of ewe due to their great mothering instinct, milk supply and are highly prolific.”
“I use Texel tups because they cross well with the Mules, they have great carcasses, tight skins and grade well in the abattoir.”
In the next number of years, Nicola aims to increase sheep numbers. Having already expanded by 100-head, she plans to purchase ewe lambs to overwinter as replacements for next year.
“Sheep on the hill ground is great for biodiversity and use the land well by grazing this ground. Sheep meat is a good source of protein, and it deserves to be enjoyed by all,” she adds.
To compact the lambing season, Nicola incorporated synchronised lambing by sponging breeding ewes.
“Lambing commences at the start of February, with pure-bred Texel ewes having already been sponged. At the end of February, we start lambing 100 early Mules, which lamb inside over two to three weeks.”
The main batch of lambing commences outside around March 23rd, comprising 700 Mules and generally lasts for a period of three and a half weeks.
Moreover, to assist with the lambing season, she uses cameras in her shed for Texels and early lambing Mules.
“I like to lamb the Texels early to give our replacement lambs time to grow. Then, I lamb the early Mules inside as I have the shed set up already for the Texels.”
“This gives us a few months to get lambs away early in June, with the intent that the price remains high before mass numbers enter the market, and the price drops.”
“To achieve a compact lambing season, we put ewes onto good grass to flush them just before the rams enter, and they remain in good grass throughout the tupping season.”
Progeny and targets
Nicola finishes all her store lambs off a milk and grass-only diet and sells less than 1% as stores through a livestock mart.
“I start picking lambs at the start of June, aiming for a weight of 40kg. By August, over half the lambs are sold. Following this, by October, all the lambs are sold.”
“Generally, the lambs kill out well with 99% hitting target grades and 97% of lambs hitting the target weights.”
“Personally, I find the Mules are great ewes, with plenty of milk, but I believe their udders can be a bit soft.”
From 2022, Nicola – whose main responsibility is sheep husbandry – had an overall scanning rate of 209% and a tailing rate of 198%.
The good and the bad
The young farmer, who is a member of NFU, RNCI, NSA and Young Farmers, is most passionate about working with livestock, as well as “going through the good and the bad, and coming out the other side”.
“I find the most enjoyable aspect of farming life to help and watch new life come into the world, then watching it grow and develop,” explained Nicola, who shares an insight into her farming life through Instagram, under the @livestock_farmher handle.
“Every day is a school day. I am always learning and trying to improve what we do. Having started my Instagram account, I engage with the wider public and enjoy the interaction.”
“I have many farming followers, and we all support and help each other; it really is a great forum for discussion and learning.”
“I believe that to be a successful sheep farmer; you need to have tough skin, care endlessly about livestock and take opportunities as they arise.”
“If I could turn back the clock and go back in time, I would tell myself to worry less. One of the biggest challenges I have had to overcome is being a woman in agriculture,” she added.
“I think that sheep farming will be a viable business. Wool prices are not good, but it is a viable and sustainable product. Wool is coming back into fashion, and this should help.”
She is of the view that it is important to “get experience and learn from everyone around you”.
“Travel to other areas if you can to see what happens in other parts of the country or the world,” Nicola concludes.
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