Case Study: Marie Prebble
1st January 2014
This article, about Marie Prebble, first appeared in the January/February 2014 edition of Sheep Farmer magazine. Marie (25) runs a tenanted farm near Dover, Kent, with her parents. She is a NSA Next Generation Ambassador, sits on the NSA South East Committee and won first place in the Young Shepherd of the Year competition at NSA Eastern Region’s Youthful Shepherd event in June 2013.
Having spent the day helping pregnancy scan ewes on a blustery hillside overlooking the Romney Marsh, it is a pleasure to be sat by my fire looking forward to another hopefully successful year on my parents Ministry of Defence tenancy in Kent.
Thinking back to last winter a feeling of déjà vu confronts me as I recall the horrendously wet winter weather and the immensely cold, challenging spring we all faced. I spent three weeks in early February lambing a local Romney flock and, while in Kent we were spared the worst, I had plenty to keep me occupied working on my own through the long nights. We were full to capacity with very poor weather conditions making turning out ewes and lambs a challenge.
They say things can only get better, as well things did, and once the grass grew and the sun shone lambs performed well and at home I was pleased to finish a lot of my lambs off grass and clover alone. Having said that, at market it was the better fleshed lambs finished with hard feed that attracted premium prices, as remained the trend throughout the selling season, highlighting to me the importance of accurate costings to achieve the best returns possible.
As a new entrant to the industry keen to learn from more experienced producers, particularly during the shearing season when I see a lot of different sheep systems, I am certain it is those farmers with attention to detail on their flock husbandry and health, efficiency of handling, knowledge of grassland management and feeding, and accurate costings who perform better.
Last summer’s weather was in our favour for shearing, with my second season as the third leg of a two-stand gang improving my technique no end. I always enjoy the challenge of shearing and the accompanying anecdotes that entertain even the most exhausted shepherd at the end of a season in the sun. With the sunshine came haymaking at home and a successful few weeks for my father and I, with the majority baled and in the barns without rain.
The drought was felt on the sheep side particularly with a lot of cull ewes sold in plain condition at depressed prices due to shortage of forward grazing.
Once ewes were sorted at home and the majority of lambs sold I was ready to purchase stock for the coming breeding season. I bought two mobs of Romney ewe tegs off farm and another smaller lot from Ashford market on Romney day in early October. These have been put to Lleyn rams to increase my flock of Kent Halfbreds at home and improve the maternal line. Using performance information recorded last year, I put a terminal flock to Texel tups, ensuring I have plenty of lambs to sell fat next year both to Ashford and through direct sales.
The rams went in at the end of October so we will be scanning at home in mid-January. I am hoping for similar results to the 163% average we scanned last year. Of course it is the all-important number of lambs weaned with an increasing focus on kg lamb produced per hectare that is crucial to profitable sheep production. I will continue to record everything I can, looking to expand my flock within the next 10 years to a number sustainable on our current permanent pasture and rented grazing arrangements locally.
Having been fortunate enough to speak at a NSA Next Generation event in Wiltshire this autumn attended by over 60 new entrants to the sheep sector I am confident the industry is in good hands, provided innovative approaches to grazing and finance arrangements are considered, perhaps looking more closely at share farming to allow some security, progression and returns of investment for new entrants.
Sheep continue to provide an opportunity for entry into a competitive industry and with the launch of the NSA Next Generation Ambassador Group this year I hope to see increased support for the many committed, skilled and ambitious new entrants I have met over the past year. I hope 2014 is a successful one for everyone working in the industry.