Tony Pierce, from Rye Harbour has been a shepherd for longer than he cares to remember. Shepherding is in his blood and he enjoys the way of life, his childhood was spent helping his father Fred, also a shepherd, on what is now Tony’s neighbours’ farm.
After leaving Thomas Peacocke School in 1981, his career started when he began sheep farming with Cyril and Graham Saunders. In 2016 he bought the business and now works for himself. His sheep are Romneys and this season he has 1,200 ewes, 370 tegs, (last year’s new lambs) and 50 rams. His daughters Emma and Faye are keen work on the farm following in his footsteps. Emma helps out part-time whilst also working at a local dairy and Faye, seventeen this June, is studying at Plumpton Agriculture College. It is a three year course and in year two the students work on a farm locally for the year to put the knowledge learned in college into practice.
May marks the start of shearing season. Most farmers shear their sheep in late spring or early summer, when the weather turns warmer, to ensure sheep do not get too hot and start to attract flies.
The price farmers can get for their wool has dropped considerably over the decades and now brings in enough money to cover the cost of getting the sheep shorn.
Tony commented, “Historically in the mid 70s a lamb would be worth £15 and the wool from the lamb would fetch £5. In today’s economic climate the lamb is worth £60 and the wool about 70p. Wool’s value has plummeted dramatically because it takes many expensive processes to arrive at the yarn stage. People are not using wool as they used to and in today’s throw-away society cheaper options for clothing are chosen”.
Prior to the pandemic, more than 150 shearers would arrive from New Zealand and Australia and work as sheep shearers throughout the season. Due to travel restrictions they haven’t come in 2021 and the UK shearers have had to step up to the challenge. It is a tiring, full on job. A good shearer will shear the first sheep of the day as well as he shears the last sheep. They have to have boundless energy and stamina and be good at what they do.
Ben and Adam from Appledore have sheared Tony’s sheep this year. They sheared 240 in one day followed by 260 and 130 the next weekend. Technique is the key. The sheep are large, cumbersome animals and require firm handling to ensure that each sheep is done as quickly as possible. It is an art.
This year’s weather has certainly not been ‘normal” and this has had a great effect upon the life of a shepherd. It was dry and cold at the end of March and throughout April with frosts most days. This stunts the growth of the grass causing long term fodder shortages later in the year. None of the local farmers has any straw or bales of hay to fall back on as they have been used so a bumper harvest this summer is a necessity.
Although it is a demanding job it is really rewarding too. Tony has taken up photography as he was captivated by the way nature is ever changing and no two mornings or evenings are the same. He has a very good eye and his pictures really capture the beauty of the place he calls work.
Image Credits: kt bruce .