Case Study: Thomas Gibson

1st July 2014

This article, about Thomas Gibson, first appeared in the July 2014 edition of Sheep Farmer magazine. Thomas (27) is an NSA Next Generation Ambassador from Broughshane, County Antrim, Northern Ireland.

The future for me is improving our farm and sheep enterprise – and I am looking forward to doing this with hybrid sheep and cattle and better grassland.

With our crossbred flock being traditionally Mules and Texel cross Mules we have used Cambridge and Belclare tups over the last five years to breed replacements. We previously used Lleyns and Colbreds but we find the Cambridge and Belclare more suited to our farm. The ewes are great mothers and suit our system well, as we out-winter all the ewes on the hills and bring them into fields in late March to start lambing.

After spending some time in New Zealand one of my main focuses is to improve my grassland management and quality of my pasture. We now surface seed and only plough if the ground is very compacted. The surface seeding has worked well as it requires less labour and no stones to lift! We also have 40 acres of agro-forestry, which is divided into two-acre paddocks that we rotationally graze with ewes and twin lambs throughout the summer. We find this easily managed and utilises grass to its maximum performance.

There are so many challenges in the sheep sector and talking with fellow NSA Next Generation Ambassadors at our meetings I find the conversation always swings to either CAP reform or EID in sheep. Having had EID in Northern Ireland now for over three years it has become part of everyday life, although we had some teething problems at the start with tags not reading etc, but with all these problems sorted we have little trouble now.

Fair CAP implementation

We are still patiently waiting in Northern Ireland to find out how CAP reform will be implemented and hopefully it will be fair throughout the whole of the agricultural industry. With lots of proposals and rumours about how the new young entrants will be sorted out we can only hope it will be resolved to keep young people in the agricultural industry and give them incentives to improve and expand their farm business.

One of our biggest challenges in Northern Ireland is getting a fair price for our lamb. Mainland Britain is often 20-40p more than ours. We also have higher concentrate prices which means we have to get as much out of our grass as possible, which is often hard considering our geographical location.

Sheep are definitely needed in upland areas to produce lamb, as this ground is often unsuitable for cropping and cattle farming. Looking towards the future I feel a vibrant and strong sheep industry is vital to help feed the world’s rapidly expanding population.

Fact File

  • 800 ewes and 50 cows.
  • Best Blaceface ewes put to Bluefaced Leciester for Mule production.
  • Crossbred ewes put to Texel for fat lambs or Belcare/Colbred for replacements.
  • Mules sold as ewe lambs and Texel crosses finished for Antrim Quality Lamb Group or, mainly, sold as stores.
  • Saler suckler cows put to the Stabliser.
  • Upland farm; 600-1,200ft above sea level.
  • Business managed by Thomas and his father.