With hundreds of sheep about to lamb and a major new countryside show to organise, Dorset shepherdess Bonnie Cradock is in for a busy spring! Tracie Beardsley reports in this month’s A Country Living.
Bonnie Cradock has been up since silly o’clock. The 26-year old shepherdess from Ludwell near Shaftesbury has nearly a thousand sheep to look after. Add to that her second job of helping to organise two of Dorset’s major country shows. And even though she grew up on a dairy farm, she never even wanted to work in agriculture!
A soldier, but for a sheep
When her elder sister, Laura, came home from a careers fair with an army keyring, Bonnie decided to find out more. At 16, she passed the officer selection process with flying colours, and at 17 gained an army bursary to do A-levels at Welbeck Sixth Form Defence College. Bonnie went on to Southampton University to study geography through the Defence Technical Undergraduate Scheme (DTUS), with a view to joining the Logistics Core. A keen sportswoman, she also played rugby and polo for the army. Ironically, it was the animals she now tends that put paid to her military career.
“I broke my collar-bone when I was five, helping to move sheep with my brother Matt. The old injury played havoc with my shoulder and resulted in me being discharged.”
For three years now, Bonnie has been learning the skills of sheep farming, guided by her knowledgeable big brother. Her parents are also involved in the administrative side of the business.
She says: “Matt and I were never that close growing up. Being the youngest of three, I was always either picked on or left out. We get on so well now – working together has brought us much closer. We’ve got different strengths and weaknesses, so we pick up where the other one falls down.”
The glam life of a shepherdess
Lambing season kicks in this month, the “hardest part of this job, but the most rewarding,” explains Bonnie. “My days will start at 4.30am and I arm myself with a Thermos of coffee. We rent our land so our flocks are spread around – ewe lambs at Lydlynch, a breeding group at Motcombe and more ewe lambs on turnips at Farrington. It can take four hours to check on them all.
‘’Our sheep will lamb outside, usually and most inconveniently in the muddiest parts of the field. So we have to set up pens for the mums and their newborns. There we can monitor them more easily and make sure they’re suckling and getting enough milk. Just like newborn babies, that first hit of colostrum is essential.”
Every year it’s all hands on deck to cope with the surge of births. In traditional style, there’s a four-year old collie sheepdog, Brock, working alongside a more modern herder – a quad bike that Bonnie refers to as their ‘gamechanger’. Her mum gets roped in as well, bottle-feeding any lambs who are struggling to feed naturally. She adds: “Dad gets involved too – fixing everything my brother breaks!”
The lambing season starts at the end of April, just one day after Bonnie finishes helping to run the first ever Spring Countryside Show at Turnpike Showground in Motcombe.
“I’ve been working a few days a week for the past couple of years for the Gillingham and Shaftesbury Show as assistant event organiser and assistant event secretary. I could never work in an office full time – I would miss the outdoors.
But I love this job; I can work it around tending to the sheep and my boss actually believes me when I turn up late for work because of a ‘sheep situation!’
The spring show means April is going to be a crazy month for me – working flat out on the show then straight into 10-hour lambing days, followed by an intensive sheep-shearing course. And I thought a career in the army would be hard work!”
Quick-fire questions with Bonnie:
A-list dinner party guests?
Winston Churchill and Jeremy Clarkson. I want to know what Jeremy Clarkson is really like and if he is as clueless a farmer as he seems on TV. I’ve always been fascinated by history and meeting the man who called the shots in WWII would be incredible.
Books on your bedside?
Eclectic choices. My mum themes my Christmas presents and last year it was sheep! Sheep tote bag, sheep headband, mittens and a book – ‘A Short History of the World According to Sheep.’ That’s next to read after I finish my chick-lit and a history book about Nazi Germany.
by Tracie Beardsley