Lambing time comes into its own in the Dales from now until the end of April and Jonathan Caygill is aiming to take some of the hassle away from those sheep farmers who have to travel a distance to check on their flock only to keep coming back to the farm several times during the day.
Jonathan has 600 Cheviots and a dairy herd of 200 black and white cows at Manor House Farm, Rylstone near Skipton and he has started coming up with ideas to make life a little easier on his own farm before then marketing to others. Three years ago he came up with the Easy Cow Lift that helps get cows back on their feet, and this year he has recently launched the Easy Sheep Feed Trailer.
“I’ve shepherded for a considerable number of years and I wanted to design something that made for more effective shepherding. We all have to look after ourselves and carrying heavy weights such as feed bags in wet fields with sheep around is not really the most sensible thing to do. Take a look in any auction mart and you’ll see a lot of farmers hobbling about, hopefully this trailer will go some way to making sure there are less of us like that in the future.
“I like designing things that make sense. I look at it from a very practical point of view. It seems to me a lot of farm machinery products look as though they have been designed by people who never have to actually use them. During lambing time you want nothing to go wrong and that’s why I have also designed the trailer with no electrics.”
The trailer consists of a hopper which feed is poured into prior to setting off in a morning. It has enough space for six ewes in the largest part of the trailer and a platform above the hopper for a dozen new-born lambs. In the area where there is room around the base of the hopper chute Jonathan has come up with a patented cubbyhole where drugs and poorly lambs can be stored to take back to the farm in a warmer environment. The trailer also has a crook holder so that you know you have it with you before you set off.
Feed is released not by a switch or a button but by the pulling of a draw-string that moves a lever. The lever opens the chute cover that allows the feed to fall to the ground either in a pile or in a line.
“When you pull on the draw-string you can count the seconds and work out how much has been released or you can just pull it until you see that it’s not coming out any more. I prefer to leave a line of feed pre-lambing so that I can check the ewes’ backsides much easier for possible problems such as lamb abortion, prolapse and mastitis.
“The area for weak lambs is something that all farmers will benefit from. I’m a big believer in colostrum and we put it into a flask and keep it in that area along with towels to dry the lambs and a hot water bottle. We dry the weak lamb, give it colostrum and put it in the cubicle to carry it back to the farm.
“Raising the temperature of the lamb is important and being out of the wind really helps. Often as not you can do more harm than good in bringing a lamb back home purely on your quad bike. The windchill it receives often strips any remaining temperature out of the lamb and nine times out of ten you kill it by bringing it home that way.
“The time we save by using the trailer means that we are able to spot problems sooner and that is what I call effective shepherding. I started with the idea about five years ago and have just tweaked one or two things as we have used it. I’m now having each trailer manufactured to my own robust specification using galvanised steel throughout, making sure that each one is built to last. I’ve patented eight items including the large wheels, the drop axle, the half back door, feeding mechanism, platform for the lambs and the area for weak lambs.
“My shepherd uses it every day and I recently sold three at LAMMA. That was the first time it had been on show and it received a great response. People couldn’t believe they hadn’t thought of it themselves. The trailer’s large diameter wheels and low pressure tyres means that it can travel at a decent rate down a road without the trailer bouncing and it’s also very easy to pull on the land by a reasonably sized quad bike of about 350-400cc. I’ve designed it so that it can be used with anything from a quad to Gator or 4x4.”
Jonathan is looking forward to demonstrating the Easy Sheep Feed Trailer at various sheep events and agricultural shows this year but before then he’s looking forward to another lambing season that for him starts next week.
“We start lambing on April 1 and although it has been a very wet winter and our sheep had lost a lot of condition it is starting to dry up now and we’re looking good. We sold the last of our fat lambs three weeks ago and prices have remained firm. Farmers are very good at putting behind us what has been thrown our way and at present I’m looking forward to another lambing season with the same enthusiasm I’ve always had. You just put everything else behind you, move on and get on with the job.”
This year Jonathan is also hoping that his latest new invention will help farmers as much as his Easy Cow Lift. He comes up with simple but effective ideas that most farmers will appreciate – and because his ideas are manual rather than electronic they are bound to appeal to all dyed-in-the-wool sheep farmers.
Does he still forget his crook in a morning despite having its own holder in the new trailer?
“I’ve always been forgetful and I still am!” he says with a smile. “But because it has its own designated place I should at least realise I haven’t got it, sometimes!”
You can check out Jonathan’s latest invention on YouTube (or should that be EweTube?) as his wife Sophie has directed a video showing how it works.