The farm is 650 acres, 350 acres are permanent pasture and 200 acres of river flood meadows, most of the land is heavy clay not suitable for outwintering stock at high grazing densities. Winter grazing is taken on adjacent dairy units and nearly all the ewes are off the farm during the autumn, but come back in January.
Six years ago Randal entered into a partnership with his father Edmund after a former 1,000 acre arable farm had been split into two units. He had previously been running Mules building up from 60 to 600. The challenge is how to farm a large sheep flock on a good arable farm, with minimum labour.
Background To Sheep System
Sheep numbers on the system have been built up to circa 3,500 ewes and ewe lambs. Severe weather in 2012 and a difficult winter has encouraged Randall to move to a single lambing date, probably early April to maximise output and minimise labour. The flock now consists of highly prolific Mule and Mule x Highlander ewes.
Farm Walk at Rockliffe Estate with Marks & Spencer
A meeting was arranged with Marks & Spencer to discuss the supply of lambs for their Speciality Range of lamb. We are proud to supply to Marks and Spencer and were keen to show them one of our member's farms. Farm Manager Darren Major hosted the farm walk and explained the importance of sheep for the estate. The sheep flock comprises of approximately 1,500 ewes
David Gauld, the shepherd at the estate explained their system for producing early lambs and showed us some of their sheep. A spectacular barbeque was excellently cooked by chef Rory Baxter and some Speciality Cotswold Spring Lamb from Marks & Spencer enjoyed by all.
A meeting to discuss marketing and the supply chain was held at Guiting Manor Farms farm office with Isla Roebuck from Dawn Meats, Steve McClean (Head of Agriculture, M&S) and Tom Harvey (Lamb buyer, M&S) .
Some members were fortunate enough to visit the British Wool Marketing Board in Bradford and gained an insight into how they handle, market and sell wool in the UK. The British Wool Marketing Board (BWMB) was setup in 1950 and is a farmer's organisation run on co-operative principles with the aim of providing producers with the best possible price for their wool.
It is the only organisation in the world that collects, grades, sells and promotes fleece wool and the only remaining agricultural commodity board in the UK. With wool prices at a 25 year high sheep producers can now look forward to their wool clip producing a sizeable profit. Group members were taken for a tour around
Wool House in Bradford, the grading depot and finally to a wool scouring plant nearby.
Having watched an auction take place in the morning members were impressed by the speed and efficiency of the system. Being completely computerised and automated the auction was quite a contrast to the traditional auction system many producers will have experienced at farm sales.Members were then taken to the grading depot, a vast building which handles the collection, grading and packing of thousands of tonnes of fleece every year. Grading is still done by hand, with every fleece examined individually. Furthermore the system records the information about every producer's wool clip so that a fair price is given for their wool when it is sold. With some 59,078 registered sheep producers in the UK this requires an efficient system. Once graded wool is pressed into bales weighing approximately 350-500kg. A coring machine takes a sample of the wool from every bale, which goes to a lab for further analysis. Members learnt that it is this attention to detail and traceability that ensures that sheep producers in the UK get a considerably higher price for their wool than their European counterparts.Once sold a large percentage of the wool travels
the short distance to the Howarth Scouring Plant in Bradford. Here the wool is washed to remove grease and other impurities from the wool. Members were impressed by the environmental credentials of the company which boasts a use for most, if not all of the by-products of this process. From fertiliser to lanolin for the cosmetics industry, members were surprised by the many uses that had been found. Once cleaned the wool is carded or combed so that it can later be spun into yarn. British wool is commonly used for making carpets but can also be used in fabrics, bedding products, insulation or knitwear. Members were surprised to learn that over 60% of British wool is exported to more than 50 countries and it is demand in China in particular which is helping increase prices.
Members would like to thank the British Wool Marketing Board for their hospitality and continued hard work in handling, grading, marketing and promoting British wool. Click the link to find out more about the Campaign for British Wool
or visit the BWMB website
The philosophy at Heritage farms is that if you are going to keep sheep then do it with enthusiasm and attention to detail. The rewards are sheep that compete on financial terms with arable crops. The benefits are a more sustainable arable business that is better equipped to cope with rising fertiliser costs and drought risks.
This was a fascinating visit to a forward thinking unit where sheep numbers have risen from 1000 a few years ago to a current flock of 2000 breeding ewes and 700 ewe lambs with the target of 3000 ewes in 2012.
Church Farm is spread out (not ring fenced) and run on a high input system which suits soil types, finance and the Heritage family. Aspects of the farm are both unconventional and traditional: There are 400 acres arable, with two wheats then a two year break starting with stubble turnips then January sown peas. A new break being tried is Canary grass for seed. 500 acres permanent pastures are used for sheep plus autumn grazing on farms making horse haylage.
After having Maedi-Visna a flock closed on the female side was established based on 1000 clean North Country Mules. Current rams used include Texel, Hartline, and Highlanders, with a nucleus flock to breed composite rams – half of the rams used rams are home bred and rest bought in.
All ewe lambs are mated and all sheep are grazed on stubble turnips to Christmas /Jan then housed, winter shorn and scanned to lamb inside. Ewe lambs start lambing mid March at the same time as the main flock mainly for adoption purposes, whilst lambing labour is available and before arable work begins. Ewes and lambs are set stocked through the spring with the first lambs sold in June with weaning in July. They continue to sell lambs throughout the year with most going away in June, July and August – there is a break from then until the end of November/December with the remainder sold by February.
This is a good example of a farm where the sheep are closely integrated with arable crops with some clever establishment methods and new ideas, and was well worth a visit.
Twenty three members visited Chilbolton Down kindly hosted by Shepherd Martyn Fletcher and Farm Manager Andrew Proctor. The tour of the farm was by tractor and trailer providing plenty of opportunity for discussion and exchange of ideas including the importance of sheep on the arable enterprise.
Martin Fletcher explained his many clever management techniques that have evolved with his easy care sheep system.
The farm consists of 1800 acres and operates an 8 year rotation system with 290 acres being grassland for the sheep which are needed to maintain fertility for arable crops on thin South Down soils
The rotation is: 2year grass with 10% clover leys. Arable crops include peas, OSR, wheat and barley undersown with grass.
Organic matter in the thin soils over chalk as a result of 40 years grazing with sheep are over 8% resulting in first year wheat yields
over 10 ton /ha. This year, which was dry, saw the benefit of the high soil organic matter. Continuous arable farming can reduce soil organic matter to around 4% - whilst this allows predictable responses from inorganic fertiliser inputs it does not maximise productivity. Arable soils that have been continuously cropped have great capacity to act as carbon sinks –locking away greenhouse gasses and mitigating the methane emissions of ruminants. There is a great opportunity for more widespread use of sheep on arable rotations that are suffering from sustainability issues due to blackgrass invasion and a restricted range of herbicides being allowed under EU regulation. But the sheep must be less work to be attractive to the arable farmer.
A former manager – Harry Ridley (of Ridley Rappa fame) pioneered Mule sheep. Martin found these too much work and set about breeding his own easy care flock of Lleyns. A high soil pH of above 8.0 on the farm, which overlies chalk, resulted in severe hypomagnesaemia for unfed outdoor lambing sheep. This held up the development of the easy care system until the availability of long term and short term magnesium boluses given to ewes at lambing. Shearling ewes which can not be caught at lambing are given long term boluses pre- lambing and perform well with that. However ewes caught last year are getting wise and are more difficult to catch now. This large Lleyn flock are different to handle to Mules –they stand up to the dog and do not flock so readily or move easily in pens. Huntaway dogs may be needed on some farms to move them easily.
All 1,700 ewes lamb outside on grass with a staff of 3 New Zealand shepherds for 3 weeks. This is a high labour input for an easy care system but all the lambs have to be caught, tagged and matched up to ewes for pedigree records. Lambing ease and mothering ability are recorded in addition to Signet records. Shearwell electronic tags were put into lambs, adult sheep also have
electronic tags and prior to lambing were given a RD2000 cattle tag on elastic around the ewes neck for easy distance reading, these tags being removed at shearing. Now Fearing tags from NZ that are distance readable are being used. Prior to lambing all these tag numbers are linked to the electronic tag number so that the hand held reader can be used to tie up lambs to ewes.
Farm IT 3000 from Borders Software Tools is used to handle records for management purposes and to download files. In total 3,000 animals are performance recorded every year. Signet are being approached with regard to processing records for the production of EBVs on which to make future selection decisions.
Ewes with high EBVs and no production problems form an elite nucleus mob mated to top maternal EBV rams. Some of these were sourced from the McGowan’s Incheoch on-farm auction before the flock was closed. Poorer ewes go to terminal sires.
Martin has used Meatlinc, Hampshire and Primera rams, finding the later produced faster growing easier finished lambs. These sell off grass and hybrid brassicas at 40 Kg live (18.8 kg carcase).
Clean two-year leys reduce drench usage aided by frequent faecal egg counts used to make the drench decision. Shearlings are given a full crutch 3 weeks pre-lambing to reduce dags and flystrike, ewes are not crutched and protected with Clik. No orphan lambs are raised but wet fostering is done in the field where possible. The first group of lambs and ewes visited were set-ons and appeared well bonded. The Bob Blandon idea of lambing single ewes needing a foster lamb into a flexible builders’ bucket- as sold at garden centres- has proved worthwhile. Lambs are mixed and left in the bucket finding it difficult to escape due to the high
slippery flexible sides. Later on the lambs are released and the bucket retrieved.
Prior to turnout onto saved pastures sheep are fed a silage based TMR on four sacrifice fields. Prolific ewes are negatively flushed
down to a condition score 2 ½ to keep scanning percentage down to 185 – 190%. 200 ram lambs from the elite flock are allowed to be challenged by worms and only the best 20 showing strong resilience are bred from. Estimated feed savings from lambing outside were over £10 although the boluses cost £2. The biggest change has been that the sheep are now much less work.
Surplus Lleyn ewe lambs are popular with other producers looking for easy care sheep; this year there are over a dozen shearling Lleyn rams also to sell.
There is a huge selection pressure in this flock for easy care traits, whilst production potential has been maintained by using high index rams and Signet recording. Some connectivity has been lost as the original tag numbers were not kept as full Signet recording was not in the initial game plan. Thus it will be a couple of years before the accuracy of the production EBV’s emerge meanwhile however Martyn can be confident overall that breeding is going in the right direction.
For farmers interested in recording and EID issues John Vipond has enclosed additional material.
Toby Baxter’s farming and contracting business is based at Compton Abdale. Main enterprises are sheep, arable, contract spraying, primary cultivations, and farm track repairs. There are four full time and two part time people working in the business.
There are 728ha of arable cropping mainly under contract farming agreements and they also do the primary cultivations on a further 350ha.
The sheep enterprise consists of 2857 ewes: 2495 Romneys and 380 Lleyns and lambed 2389 ewes this year; the majority of lambs are sold fat.
In 2005 new shepherd, Geraint Powell, arrived and changes began: from North Country Mules to Romneys with flock numbers expanding mainly from retaining ewe lambs. With the aim to improve lamb carcass quality, this year pure Romney, NZ Hampshire, NZ Suffolk, South Down and Berichon rams were used.
The grassland area is 411ha which is predominantly permanent pasture under ESA or HLS agreements. There are 27 ha of grass leys including 6ha of chickory and red clover. Stubble turnips and fodder beet are grown for wintering ewes and lambs and extra grass keep is taken in the autumn. Full stocking rate has now been reached.
In 2008 another block of land became available complete with a herd of sucklers which are managed for the owners.
Renutrack is the other farm enterprise, rejuvenating farm tracks, yards and driveways.
The event took place on Tuesday 10th May. Group member Richard Gale hosted the event at Binley Farm, Kingscote. The weather and setting could not have been more perfect. A number of group members attended to promote the group’s Cotswold Lamb to about 40 companies represented by chefs and buyers. Invited guest including celebrity TV chef Brian Turner, enjoyed a buffet lunch of Casterbridge Cotswold Lamb. Delegates from the the supplier; the Cotswold Sheep Group, the processor; RWM Food Group and Fairfax Meadow, the reseller joined top chefs and meat buyers in a farm tour and buffet lunch. Guests sampled rosemary and garlic studded whole legs of lamb, herb crusted racks of lamb, tender slow braised shoulder of lamb and a Moroccan Tagine of diced shoulder of lamb. The quality of the food was fantastic and the wonderful, relaxed setting was perfect. Following a farm tour, Eblex, who helped bring members throughout the supply chain together, provided an informative butchery demonstration on-site.
Casterbridge Cotswold Lamb is already proving a commercial success, being a feature on the menu at Gordon Ramsay's restaurant. Clare Smyth, the restaurant's head chef attended the event and told Fairfax Meadow how pleased she was with the lamb and how interesting it was to meet the farmers and "witness their passion for the product".
This successful day was organised by Fairfax Meadow and Eblex. Special thanks to Richard Gale and his workforce for providing the venue and the use of the fabulous Kingscote Barn for the meal.
There was an excellent turnout of members to visit Philip Mann's farm at Upper Farm, Didbrook, Winchcombe.
Philip Mann has recently increased the size of his farm to 1400 acres. Just less than 500 acres at the bottom of the Cotswold escarpment is medium loam and rising to higher Cotswold brash. Philip runs 50 Suckler cows, 300-350 early lambers inside and 850 spring lambing ewes – outside.
He feeds barley, clamped fodder beet and wrapped silage and some lamb creep: the problem for Philip this winter will be the same as many other members - shortage of fodder having made only half the amount of wrapped silage than last year due to the dry summer.
Philip took members around his farm explaining his system. There was good discussion not only from members but also with John Vipond, SAC sheep consultant who joined us for the day. Various aspects of sheep husbandry were debated, with particular attention devoted to Philips fodder shortage problem. John Vipond explained the benefits of feeding brassica fodder crops, fodder beet and other crops
`From small beginnings come great things' or so the proverb goes. This is the first post on the official blog of the Cotswold Sheep Group. Let's see where we go from here - I hope you enjoy the ride!