Kevin Prince has wide experience of farming and rural business in Hampshire, where he lives near Andover, and across southern England as a director in the Adkin consultancy. His family also run a diversified farm with commercial lets, holiday cottages and 800 arable acres.


JUNE and July are the months of shearing and hay making for farms that have grassland and sheep to graze it. The way in which an expert shearer shears a ewe is mesmerising to watch, it is a combination of strength, calm and fluidity, with a rhythm which can be almost hypnotic.

The best shearers, like the best at any sport, make it look so effortless and give the impression that the sheep is actually moving itself around the clipping head. Of course, the reality, (as anyone who has ever had a go will know) is that it is back aching, extremely physical work which needs total concentration.

The wool price has improved from its lowest levels, but the economics of shearing still do not stack up for the majority of sheep farmers. The cost of shearing and transporting the fleeces is more than they are worth and the sale price is seen as really little more than a contribution to a task that is carried out for welfare reasons.

This is not always communicated well to those outside of the farming community and is completely missed by those who accuse sheep farmers of mistreating sheep by shearing them. Of course the complete opposite is true and at current prices many sheep farmers would be delighted to not have to shear at all.

(Image: Contributed)

Whilst shearers are labouring in hot sticky barns at this time of year other lucky souls are sitting in an air-conditioned cab undertaking another equally satisfying job – mowing. There is something about a freshly mown hay meadow that is aesthetically so pleasing. Long grass at this time of year is beginning to look a little tired and scruffy and being able to transform that into straight neat swathes of grass lying uniformly in the same direction is very satisfying.

Add in that sweet smell of mown grass and you can see why many people say it is one of their favourite jobs on a farm.

After the hay has been baled or the silage collected the field looks refreshed and tidy in the same way that hair looks fresh from the barbers or the hairdressers – or the freshly shorn ewe as she leaves the hands of the expert shearer. Equally you may notice some fields being left longer before cutting than in recent years. Some of them may start to look a little untidy compared to grass fields that we have been accustomed to seeing in recent years but there is a good reason for this. Traditional hay meadows, with their abundance of insects, wild flowers and mammals, were cut later in the year than hay fields have been since the 1950s. Artificial fertilisers and sprays enabled grass to be grown quicker and “cleaner” with less weeds which was excellent for silage or hay production but inevitably led to the loss of some bio-diversity on some grassland fields. Farmers are now increasingly focussed on increasing bio-diversity and so you will see more fields looking “scruffy” with more nettles and wild flowers.

I already know that in some villages this is leading to requests to farmers to  “cut the nettles” in fields which are part of a view from village houses. However, we all have to play our part, if we are to encourage bio-diversity we have to all accept that fields are less likely to look like manicured bowling greens and a look a little unloved for a relatively short period of time.