NSA South Sheep 2016

Date: 7th June 2016

Location: Pythouse Farm, Tisbury, Salisbury, Wiltshire

The sun was out in full force for what was a scorcher of a day at NSA South Sheep, kindly hosted by Sir and Lady Henry Rumbold. Hordes of visitors grabbed the chance to visit the numerous trade stands and seminars, tour the host farm and watch the sheepdog trials.

The Duke of Montrose, NSA President, opened the day by welcoming farmers to the heartland of British Down breeds. He highlighted the diversity of the UK sheep sector through its range of breeds and systems, challenging retailers that it was inaccurate for them to suggest there were times of the year when UK lamb was out of season. He emphasised that the industry would need to watch its relationship with the EU as, in the event of a Brexit, there could be a tariff of 18-30% to sell our sheep into the EU.

This set the theme for a subsequent EU referendum seminar session hearing arguments from Sir Peter Kendall and MP Owen Patterson on why farmers should opt to stay or leave. At the heart of Mr Patterson’s ‘leave’ argument was the potential for UK farmers to take back decision-making power when it came to policy making and political representation, and set up its own trade agreements. However, Sir Peter Kendall said the main reason for the EU was about trade and having access to a single market of 500 million people, which was ‘critical’ for the UK and growing its sheep meat industry.

Over the rest of the day, visitors to the seminar area got to hear a variety of technical talks from farmers and researchers, including the potential development of a vaccine against the Teladorsagia circumcincta worm. There were also sessions on using melatonin to optimise sheep breeding, breed choice and the benefits of body condition scoring – scroll down to read a summary of all the seminars.

The next generation of sheep farmers was represented strongly, with a number of dedicated events and competitions laid on especially for young blood. This included an NSA Next Generation session on the eve of the main show, organised by NSA South East Region to provide practical and technical advice. The event was aimed at 18 to 35 year olds with a thirst for learning more about sheep farming. The 57 attendees could choose to attend four of a selection of eight workshops, explains vet and chair of the event, Louise Silk. “There isn’t a huge amount to encourage and educate young people and this was a free event to help educate those with a future career in sheep farming,” she said. Workshops covered areas such as practical fecel egg counting, fencing and dog training. A farmer discussion panel also shared their thoughts on the pros and cons of differing roles within the sheep industry. This was followed by an evening social event including shearing competitions, a live band, bar and lamb roast.

On the day of NSA South Sheep event itself, young farmers competed in the Shepherd of the Future competition, where they were judged on various criteria including selecting lambs for slaughter, fencing and flock management. Speaking at the awards presentations for the competition, NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker said he was hugely encouraged by the amount of young people at this event, and NSA events in general. “It really sets the industry up well to see so much young blood coming in, and such high calibre of young people at that. It places a massive responsibility on us as an organisation, and others, to make sure what you’re coming into is rewarding and satisfying and permanent.”

Competition winners

  • Shepherd of the Future: 1, Alex Olphert; 2, William Hinton; 3, Jack Day; 4, Jack Mighall. Student section: 1, Callum Tudor; 2, Louis Cheeseman, Emily Bungay and Hannah Bennett.
  • Speed shear: 1, Stewart Pullin; 2, Dean Nelmes; 3, Neil Woolacott; 4, Martin Howlett.
  • Clean shear: 1, Will Hinton; 2, George Frazier; 3, Paul Boulden; 4, Alex Olphert.
  • Open sheepdog trial: 1, John Wheaton with Ben (81); 2, Andy Jackman with Moss (80) (OLF); 3, Andy Jackman with Cap (80) (OLF,D); 4, Mark Banham with Belle (80); 5, Jed Watson with Zac (79) (OLF); 6, Jed Watson with Shep (79).
  • Novice sheepdog trial: Results not yet available.

Seminar summaries

Seminar 1: Breeds for needs: Choosing the right breed to suit specific farming systems was discussed as part of a farmer panel debate hosted by AHDB Beef & Lamb’s Dr Liz Genever. Three farmers and one vet took to the stage to present their thoughts on why their breed of choice worked for them. The general consensus was that breed choice was dependent on system type, with some also leaning in favour of having a closed flock to produce the right type of sheep to suit specific farm requirements. Vet Ian McDougal said sire choice would vary for an outdoor versus indoor lambing flock, although that didn’t necessarily mean a different breed. He added: “Buy rams from a farmer who farms pedigree sheep in the same way as your commercial flock.” New Zealand Romney breeder, Alan Derryman agreed and said his breed choice fitted his requirements. “I wanted a sheep that could graze all year round with low labour requirements.” His wool cheque also added 10% on his lambing percentage, he said. Wiltshire farmer Mark Candy explained that he had chosen the Llyen breed partly due to its low feed requirements and suitability for his forage based system. Its medium size, good mothering ability and plenty of milk also ranked highly. Producer John Mason waved the flag for the North of England Mule and highlighted the benefits of its hybrid vigour together with its ability to produce and rear twin lambs easily in difficult conditions. “Any fool can lamb a Mule,” he concluded.

Seminar 2: New ways to tackle the threat of worms: Scientists are one step closer to developing a vaccine against Teladorsagia circumcincta, commonly known as the brown stomach worm. The Moredun Institute has ramped up efforts to produce a vaccine in the face of increasing resistance to anthelmintics in sheep. They are now six years down the line in the development of a vaccine against Teladorsagia, which is viewed as a significant ‘production limiting disease’. Dr Alasdair Nesbitt from Moredun explained that although the institute had successfully brought a Haemonchus contortus vaccine to market in Australia, the different ‘lifestyle’ of Teladorsagia meant another approach to development was needed. However, in the last six years, big strides had been made, with the successful identification of eight worm proteins which had been used to immunise lambs. “The vaccine worked and is the first vaccine of its type to show effect,commented Dr Nesbitt. However, varying efficacy in younger lambs meant attention had been shifted towards developing a vaccine for ewes, which were shown to shed infected larvae to pasture around lambing. Although found to successfully reduce ewe FEC by 50%, further work was needed to improve efficacy. Dr Nesbitt concluded that a vaccine would likely be available to farmers in the next 10 years. However he stressed that a ‘joined up approach’ to worm control was vital. "It has to be a combination of breeding for (worm) resistance, continued use of anthelmintics where effective, proper diagnosis to see if treatment is needed, management, nutrition and vaccination,” he said. He also said the ultimate aim was to develop a multi-species vaccine, although this was a long way off.

Seminar 3: Optimising the breeding season in sheep: Sheep farmers could benefit from improved flock fertility, increased prolificacy and a tighter lambing period by using melatonin implants. As seasonal breeders, sheep naturally produce the hormone melatonin as a result of shorter day length. This then kick starts the reproductive cycle. Katherine Timms, Ceva Animal Health Technical Advisor explained that using the melatonin implant Regulin 40 days before the tup went in was a way to make the most of this natural process and manipulate the breeding season. This could help bring the lambing season forward so farmers could make the most of better early season prices, while also meaning lambs were bigger at sale. As rams were also seasonal breeders, Ms Timms said melatonin could also be used in tups. “Implanting rams on the same day as ewes can increase sperm morality, increase the number of sperm they’ve got and increase scrotal circumference and volume, she explained. A review of 139 research papers from around the world also showed that, on average, using Regulin at normal lambing time could result in an average 25% increase in lamb numbers. “If you’ve got more lambs, you’ve got more to sell. And if there’s a tighter lambing period you’ve got more uniform lambs so less disease risk and they’re easier to dose, Ms Timms added. However, she emphasised that the use of melatonin did not make up for poor management and this method should only be used on ewes that had everything right with them as a way of maximising their productivity.

Seminar 4: EU referendum debate: Trade routes, CAP payments and decision making powers were the main topics thrashed out in a EU referendum debate between MP Owen Patterson and Sir Peter Kendall. At the heart of Mr Patterson’s ‘leave’ argument was the potential for UK farmers to take back more decision making power when it came to policy making and political representation. “Far better for this country would be to sit down with local politicians, with local organisations and tailor a proper rural policy to our own industry and our own environment, he said. He added that taking control could enable the UK Government to spend the same or more on agriculture, but believed the main benefit would be in deciding how it was spent. Leaving would also enable the UK to take more power back on the world stage, develop technologies and set up its own trade agreements. However, Sir Peter Kendall said the main reason for the EU was about trade and having access to a single market of 500 million people was ‘critical’ for the UK and growing its sheep meat industry. Leaving would mean we had no say in standards and we would need to develop trade agreements with all of the 27 remaining states. “We’re unpicking 40 years of trade lines and trade deals we have in place, he added. He also said the industry would ‘be in for some pretty significant economic shocks’ if we left, due to the fact the spend on farming and subsidies would have to compete against areas such as the NHS, which would always rank higher. 

Seminar 5: Ewe nutrition and condition score: Improving consistency of ewe body condition could help boost lamb weaning and eight week weights, and reduce the number of light lambs, according to initial findings from a four year farm project. The project began in 2013 as a means of assessing the long term impact of body condition scoring on three English flocks and is being run by AHDB Beef & Lamb, Nottingham University and sheep consultant Lesley Stubbings. Project farmer Matt Blyth, from Didling Farms in Midhurst, presented his thoughts on the impact of body condition scoring on his 1,000-ewe flock as part of a joint presentation with AHDB Beef & Lamb’s Nerys Wright. Ms Wright said ewe BCS had improved at Didling Farms since the start of the project. “The range has gone down from BCS 1.5-4 to 2.75-4. Most of the ewes are now on target for BCS 3-3.5, she explained. This had been achieved by providing good grass covers, weaning at 12 weeks instead of 16, vaccinating for abortion and addressing worming policy. Mr Blyth explained that as ewe body condition had improved, the number of light lambs had dropped. This meant the number of lambs weighing 17kg or under at eight weeks was 18% in 2015 versus 23% in 2014. Lambs below a target of 18kg at eight weeks were also getting less and less. Ms Wright suggested ideally ewes should be condition scored at weaning, tupping, scanning, lambing or at Heptavac time, and eight weeks post lambing. When the project ended, the aim was to identify two key times for scoring.