WE seem to have lost the glorious summer days for a while. The week started rather damp with 18 mm of rainfall , then developed into a mainly cloudy week, often quite windy. Short, sharp storms punctuated the last few days, which added another 2 mm.

Shearing the last few hundred sheep took place during the week, but these were in several small flocks in fields scattered around the farm. As the forecast was on the damp side the sheep had to be rounded up and brought into a large barn to keep them dry a day before the shearers were due to arrive. The British Wool Marketing Board is responsible for selling all UK wool and it is packed in bags supplied by the board, collected and sold at auctions throughout the year. There has recently been improved demand and competition for fine and medium grade wool, with the largest sale weight having been cleared since February.

Auctions are now being held every 2 weeks, with 460 tonnes more sold through May and June than during the same period last year. There are 15 million sheep in the UK, scattered over 40,000 wool producing farms. The average weight of wool produced by a UK sheep is 2 kg. Sheep are shorn every 12 months, growing a new fleece each year, so wool is totally renewable. It is used to make carpets, clothes, beds, bedding, furniture, insulation, and felt. It is ideal for making carpets and clothing as it can regulate body temperature naturally, also absorb and desorb heat and humidity.

The sebaceous glands of wool bearing animals secrete a wax called lanolin . Wool can be processed to remove the lanolin, which is used in skin treatment products and high value cosmetics. The wool from a Lleyn sheep, a lowland breed is classified as medium quality with the British Wool Board; it is dense, medium length and pure white.

Other sheep work done during the week was to separate the elite ewe lambs from the elite ram lambs, which were born in the spring. Daily checking of all the sheep continues and any found to be unwell, injured or lame are examined and treated appropriately, usually marked with a coloured spot so their progress can be monitored. The barns used to house some of the sheep during the winter are also being thoroughly cleaned and repaired if necessary, with the erection of a movable coverall to provide more space if needed. The weekly sorting of lambs for sale continues.

Ian has been spending some time during the week "roguing" wild oats. Roguing is the practise of identifying and removing plants with undesirable characteristics from a cropped field. This is to ensure that the quality of the grain eg so wheat at harvest does not contain wild oats, which would compromise the quality. Wild oats are easy to spot and identify in cereal crops as they tend to be much taller. Ian removed the wild oats by pulling them up and taking them back to the farm to be destroyed. Tram lines (the measured wheel marks in a crop where the tractor runs when applying fertilisers or other chemicals ) make it easy to walk to patches of wild oats without damaging the crop.

Another injurious weed we are trying to control on Manor Farm is ragwort. Common ragwort is poisonous to livestock, damaging their liver if eaten and becoming palatable when dry eg in hay. It produces clusters of yellow daisy-like flowerheads, flowering from June to October. The best way to control it is to remove it by pulling it up from the roots and destroying it. Ragwort however is the favoured food of the Cinnabar moth, with its bright crimson hind wings, which can often be seen flying during the day. The larvae feed on ragwort, absorbing the toxic, bitter alkaloid substances, becoming unpalatable and poisonous themselves, demonstrated by their colouration of black and yellow stripes. Our aim is not to destroy it all, but prevent it getting into conserved forage.