Developing resilient systems
The next step once you have health-checked your business is understanding where your current pinch points are, such as availability of grass in the spring or summer, or your ability to winter stock. Input costs will need to be carefully considered and, if they can’t be justified, changes made. Increasing the focus on grass and home-grown forages, to reduce costs, will be an option to consider within many sheep farming businesses.
Campbell Tweed, Country Antrim, Northern Ireland
My background is on a hill and upland family farm at Cairncastle, Larne, with bare coated Blackface sheep and suckler cows, which I have worked since graduating from Auchincruive in Scotland.
The farm has been improved over the years with fencing, liming, controlled grazing, piped water supply, performance recorded sheep (both bought-in and homebred), better silage making and feeding, addition of lanes for access and refinement of the outdoor lambing system and handling processes.
We now work with performance recorded flocks of Easy Care and Wiltshire Horn ewes lambing on grass from the second week of April. We produce breeding stock for sale and lamb to the retail supply chain.
More recently the suckler herd has been dispersed, although we graze some cattle according to grass availability, cattle prices and market prospects.
Our system wouldn’t be for everyone, but we were determined to set ourselves up for a future without subsidies and the formula we have works for us. The changes we have made and plan to make are driven by a mind-set of wanting to make continuous improvements to achieve better performance and better results. We feel wool production isn’t profitable or ever likely to be in a UK or European hill situation. That might be an extreme view for some people, but is part of our focus on breeding sheep that require as little shepherding as possible, selecting hard against lambing difficulty, lameness, poor mothering, flystrike, poorly conformed udders and slow growth.
I have built a resilient system based off advice from various sources, which built on my education and experience, and by looking at things critically and thoroughly. I also have a mostly supportive bank manager. It is important to discuss and agree plans with the bank if borrowing is involved or likely to be. It is worthwhile to look at other farms and see stock or equipment in a working situation. I think it’s vital to deal with matters as they are, not as you would like to think they are.
If you are considering overhauling your sheep farming system, consider the potential changes you could make from a number of perspectives and start with whatever is likely to have the greatest beneficial effect, physically or financially. This is often pasture related (and pasture-produced lamb has a fantastic message for consumers) and I believe you’ll usually find any limiting factors can be either reduced or eliminated.
Remember, if you don’t enjoy doing something you won’t be good at it. And if you aren’t good at something, you won’t enjoy it.
- AHDB ‘Sheep Better Returns’ report on optimising sheep systems
- AHDB ‘Sheep Better Returns’ report on improving pasture management
- AHDB ‘Sheep Better Returns’ report on genetic improvements
- AHDB 'Sheep Better Returns’ report on health and fertility
- ADHB ‘Sheep Better Returns’ report on iceberg diseases
- QMS ewe nutrition and body condition scoring timeline
- QMS grazing planning spreadsheet
- QMS glossary of grazing terms
- QMS breeding and genetics guide
- HCC sheep management guide
- HCC breeding and genetics guide
- DAERA relative feeding values tool
- DARDNI silage calculator
- DAERA ewe management guide to pre-mating and early and mid-pregnancy
- DAERA ewe management guide to feeding ewes in late pregnancy
- Signet guide to Estimated Breeding Values
- Signet Ram Compare project
- SCOPS website: Information on sustainably controlling parasites
- NADIS website: Animal health skills
- Farm Health website: Guide to breeding and lambing
- Farm Antibiotics website: Best practice information
- Tried and Tested (Professional Nutrient Management) website: farm and field record sheets
- Organic farming information: Organic Research Centre, Soil Association, Soil Association Scotland, Organic Farmers and Growers, Welsh certification and Northern Ireland certification
- Championing the Farmed Environment (Promoting good environmental management through productive farming practices): CFE advice and training, CFE guidance and resources and CSF water and air pollution advice
- Climate UK, Environment Agency and Climate Ready: Farm business resilience health check
- Farmers Weekly ‘Know How’ page for sheep
- The Princes Countryside Resilience programme, running free business skills and management workshops.
Enjoy in the comfort of your own home or listen-on-the-go as Marc Jones, an Adas consultant, advises on future-proofing businesses, with a particular focus on grass-based systems. Marc runs an extensive sheep and beef system in mid-Wales in addition to his role with Adas.