Case Study: James Drummond

1st May 2014

This article, about James Drummond, first appeared in the May/June 2014 edition of Sheep Farmer magazine. James (30) is from Alnwick, Northumberland. He is an NSA Next Generation Ambassador and also a Nuffield Scholar. He is balancing his commitment to both projects with the family farming business at home.

Northumberland is rather gloomy this lambing period, with plenty of thick fog and rain. But the ewes and lambs are looking fit and the grass is starting to grow nicely, which is a vast improvement on last year.

As I write this we are 10 days in and going at a steady pace (70-80 ewes per day) and the ewe lambs will be coming in to lamb in a few days’ time, all of which are put to a Charollais ram. I find lambing our ewe lambs not only gives us an extra crop of lambs but improves the ewes’ production in later life, makes them a lot better mothers when they start lambing outside as gimmers and a lot easier to handle.

As a result of the previous years’ late spring and poorer growth rates, their scanning was back to 83% from 101% last year, but our main cross Suffolk flock was up to 197% whilst our halfbreds were around average performance at 186%.

Minimising losses

Hopefully spring will kick in properly soon but not quite as abruptly as last year, which resulted in a large onslaught of nematodirus. We began dosing as soon as the problem was detected but with our stocking level it took a few weeks to get round all the fields and was a little disheartening seeing losses after all the hard work put in during lambing. Coccidiosis buckets are out in the fields and we seldom have a problem, although we are careful to monitor the situation.

Ewes and lambs will be set stocked for another five weeks before being combined with lambs of similar weight and then we start rotational grazing until weaning, with lambs starting to be weighed for sale towards the end of June. At weaning remaining lambs will go on to red clover and silage fields, which will have had a month’s rest, then kale and Swift for the tail end.

We bought a few Aberfield rams this year to try over our North County Cheviot flock and the lambs are looking good so far with plenty of vigour and lambing ease. I look forward to seeing how the resulting ewes perform from this cross and expect an improved finished lamb in comparison to our previous half-bred wethers.

The pedigree Texel flock is lambing well with no assistances and the rams are used over our cross Suffolk flock with great emphasis placed on growth rates, conformation and lambing ease. This year we have also put a Charollais ram over some of our Texels to produce a composite terminal sire.

I am expecting a busy year both on and off the farm this year, as I returned from Australia just before lambing and will be fitting trips to Ireland, France and Holland around silage and harvest, with New Zealand and the USA planned later in the year. I am travelling as part of my Nuffield Farming Scholarship for which my study topic is ‘optimising ewe performance for a productive sheep enterprise and a high quality finished lamb’ and will be investigating increasing efficiency in lamb production through improved genetics, increased resistance and resilience, grazing strategies, grassland management and seed selection, as well as improvements to maternal breed lines and terminal sires both within breed and composites being developed globally.

In February I attended the Nuffield Contemporary Scholars Conference in London followed by two weeks in Australia with fellow scholars from around the world. It was a tremendous opportunity to spend time among people with such enthusiasm and drive to develop agriculture globally. After the conference I spent a week investigating the research being carried out within the Australian sheep sector, meeting a wide range of organisations. I was amazed by the collaboration in agricultural research and particularly the role of the Sheep Co-operative Research Centre (CRC) in governing and overseeing collaboration. Projects are determined by the farmer-run Sheepmeat Council so research is driven by producers’ needs and delivered to them through Sheep CRC’s various facilitating organisations.

Eating quality

The trip was very beneficial and I learnt a lot regarding meat eating quality, which is a part of my research I thought could prove difficult to quantify. My aim is to develop the lamb carcase to improve the yield of high value cuts and the taste of our produce while achieving consistent grades and also tailoring our ram selection closely to the finishing time of our lambs (i.e. quicker finishing lambs contain high intra muscular fat for eating quality while slower finishing crosses have low carcase fat).

I look forward to developing our sheep enterprise over the years alongside the development of their new dictator, Spud, an eight-month-old border collie who has been through intensive training this lambing period and getting on well!