ENGLISH shepherds share some similar challenges with Australian sheep producers, according to northern England shepherd and author James Rebanks, a guest speaker at LambEx 2018 in Perth from August 5-7.
Mr Rebanks said while farming in the Lakes District was very different to Australia, there were still many parallels between the two.
“We have many challenges, the hardest being the weather and the seasons.
“While many parts of Australia are still waiting for the autumn break, in the UK we have just had a truly terrible winter with many weeks of snow and wind and rain,” he said.
“My flock is worn down and holding on for spring,” he said.
“Our system has always focused on producing meat and wool from some of the hardest and poorest mountain land in Britain, as part of this I have to keep my sheep healthy from a range of conditions, problems and diseases.
“We have just suffered an outbreak of liver fluke and pneumonia, so have had to fight hard to get through that with minimal losses.”
Mr Rebanks said another challenge is to make a living in an old-fashioned, small-farm landscape in an age of globalised food commodities.
“We need to try to tap into the love of this landscape by millions of people to generate new income streams.”
Other challenges are to breed great sheep of high value and to farm in a sustainable way.
“My final challenge is to be a writer when I already have a full-time job and four kids.”
Mr Rebanks said it was vital for producers to reconnect with the non-farming societies they were situated in, to increase the understanding of what they did and the trust they had in it.
“It was also important to listen to what non-farming consumers and citizens wanted from farmers.
“I believe passionately that there is a place for many different, diverse, farming systems, around the world, including some very old ones like ours, if we can adapt and add value to our produce and landscape,” he said.
Shepherds are disappearing from the UK countryside but Rebanks, who has 100,000 Twitter followers and an acclaimed memoir to his name, says he will never give up on the life that has sustained his family for more than 600 years. Under the Twitter handle @herdyshepherd1 he tweets daily about his farm and his flock of Herdwick and Swaledale sheep.
Despite leaving school at 15 years-old barely able to write, Mr Rebanks’ worte a best-selling memoir, The Shepherd’s Life, that has been translated into 18 languages. After dropping out of school, he later graduated from Oxford University. Besides his on-farm work Mr Rebanks also advises UNESCO on how to manage growing tourism in developing countries.
At Lambex 2018, Mr Rebanks will share his challenges and the story of how the Lakes District was recently listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
LambEx 2018 Early Bird Registrations are now open and the full program is available at http://lambex.com.au/
Source: Lambex 2018.
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