Blog: Oli Newman
31st December 2015
Oliver Newman (21) is an NSA Next Generation Ambassador 2015 from Cirencester, Gloucestershire. While working alongside your father is not unusual for people born onto sheep farms – but Oli applied for the job! He is the employed shepherd for a flock of 600 outdoor-lambing Lleyns, on a mixed organic unit where his father is farm manager. Oli says he gets no special treatment by ‘knowing the boss’, having to pitch ideas and changes to his dad like any other employee. He took the job in June 2014 and has sole responsibility for the flock, which he is keen to increase to 850+ ewes and begin recording ‘much more precise data’ to back up management decisions. Oli’s aim is to increase ewe quality so they are all good enough to breed replacements from, with fewer and fewer being put to a terminal sire instead. The farm is open to the public and has a popular farm shop and café. The café serves vegetarian meals six days a week, but an excellent roast on Sundays. All of the lambs not selected for breeding in Oliver’s flock are finished on the farm, some for the shop and café.
Scroll down for entries from Oli about his farming year in 2015.
These past few months have consisted of a variety of jobs. The start of January was dominated by taking the tups out and making sure each group of sheep had the correct amount of grass ahead of them or enough forage to keep them maintained and well. This was also coupled along with general jobs covering across the cattle, pigs and chickens at this time of year.
Continuing through January and a lot of February, my workload stayed fairly consistent, with winter feeding dominating a lot of my sheep work, along with sorting through my remaining lambs, splitting them into certain groups; fit/nearly fit, which ones we would sell as stores as they looked un-likely to finish without a lot of extra time and feed that we couldn't spare this year, and then a slightly mixed group which we keep right the way through to around the end of May/start of June, when we will have the first of our new season lamb. This allows us to continue to sell our own lamb/hogget in the farm shop all year round, whilst lambing the entire flock only once around mid April.
We also had our first Ambassador session on 16th-18th February, which i think was a real success. All 12 of us seemed to get on really well, found it informative and enjoyed contributing our own ideas and opinions throughout.
I then scanned on the 19th, and amongst other things this past week and a bit have been spent splitting the ewes into more manageable and feed specific groups regarding how many lambs their carrying, their condition etc.
As I write this I have all but finished lambing, with the last 22 pulled out and in a small paddock separate to the rest of the flock. The past month/month and a half, as it has been for many others across the country, has been very busy with lambing or lambing preparation taking up pretty much all my time. We started on 18th April, two days before they were due, and managed to get through the main bulk of the ewes in three weeks. By 9th May 450 had lambed, leaving a small group of mainly the ewe lambs and around 50 of the ewes left.
All in all lambing went very well this year. Data and results are waiting on the last few to lamb to be calculated and finalized, but losses have been low and with the weather in the first two weeks being kind, if a little cold at times, most of the lambs have had a very good start and are growing and moving along nicely.
This was my first year and experience of lambing under a full EID system. Whilst there are still a few teething problems, once I managed to settle on a system and recording set-up that worked it went again relatively smoothly.
About one to two weeks before lambing started each ewe or ewe lamb had its individual management number (which is linked to its eartag number) sprayed onto its side, which allows me to pull up the ewe’s information on my in-field handheld computer, without catching her if all is well.
Every lamb then gets at least one electronic tag, with the all the males and singles just keeping this tag, whilst nearly all the females from a twin or triplet get a second flock tag, which is also colour coded to the year they are born. This group is then narrowed down to around 200-220 which we aim to keep of our own replacement ewe lambs. In the field, sex, dam, sire, DOB and weight are recorded, along with certain factors such as poor mum, mothering ability, fostered on or off etc, then one or two of the tags are put in, the ewes management number is sprayed onto the lambs and then otherwise, as normal, the lambs are tailed and castrated if needed.
Although it has been strange to look at some of the lambs, especially the little ones, with an ear tag or two and very floppy ears, the lack of wet weather 100% made all the recording much easier. All in all working with EID didn't actually make lambing much harder once I found the system to suit my routine and set-up, and as I come to the end, the set of data and results I have collected and information added to the flocks history is much greater and detailed, whilst allowing me to access it and compare it relatively easily.
It’s hard to believe where the year is going. With only one full week left in June it’s nice that we finally seem to have some good weather. Since my last update we rounded off a very good lambing, aided largely by the good weather. The figures are generally looking good with a 5% mortality rate being pleasing. The lambs have all had their first vaccination for pasteurella and clostridial diseases and I'm pleased with how they are growing. The size and conformation is already coming through on the majority of the lamb crop, especially some of the earlier born singles. The ewes that had dead lambs were pulled out and put on tight grazing to fully dry them off and stop them from grazing (or over grazing) their share of the ewes’ and lambs’ good grass. Many of the groups have come off the lambing fields and are on fresh new lays or grassland that hasn't been heavily grazed over the winter. This is allowing me to keep pushing the growth of the lambs, whilst allowing the ewes to work hard without losing too much condition. This has also allowed the lambing ground to have a much lower stocking rate and therefore it is starting to come back nicely.
The lambing site is all packed up, with the majority of the kit being stored in the right place for next year. We managed to get our first cut of clamp, red clover silage off on 24th May. This predominately feeds the dairy cows along with some of the beef cattle, although a few tonnes may be fed to some of the flock over the course of the winter. Hay, wrapped silage and haylage should be cut in the next few weeks. This also helps to feed the sheep during the winter months.
Other general jobs such as electric fencing, standard maintenance to the flock and some work with the cattle have also added to this moths work load. Whilst analysing and adding the lambing data I have also cleared up any anomalies or outlying information within our flock database. The next few weeks will entail the lamb’s second vaccinations, plus a selenium drench, shearing the flock around the first week of July, replenishing forage stocks and hopefully selling the first few new season lambs.
My jobs recently have included general management to the flock, continuous monitoring and management to the grassland and pushing some of the lambs on. Much of the same has applied with the beef cattle and the area of land they are running, along with some harvest prep.
Due to a personal issue with one of the members of staff, I’ve also ended up covering just under two weeks of milking shifts and looking after the dairy herd, along with welcoming in our new cows and heifers and helping them settle in, to aid and quicken the increase in the size of the herd, rather than just breeding internally.
I sold my first lambs to the farm shop on the Monday 10th August. Which, considering we didn't finish lambing till the back end of May and had a few dragging into early June, I was fairly pleased with. Other than that, I’ve been weighing and monitoring lamb growth and finalising the last few details of our in house flock expansion. Some of our crosses, for example tup breeds, are going to be made up over the coming years.
Since my last update, all through August I've been pretty busy as have so many of us across the country. We started Harvest at the end of July and managed to get on fairly well but we then had a big delay through the middle of the month due to the weather. Luckily, we then managed to have a good week and half at the end of the month and finished all the cutting on the Friday 7th September. We got the last load of bales stacked in the shed on Thursday 10th September, and some of the early cultivations are in process as I write this. It was a mixed harvest with some poor crops and yields, but overall the good parts evened it out to leave us overall happy.
Other general jobs have included helping out with calving some of the new dairy heifers and our second batch of beef cattle. We’ve also brought some of the fat and young stock back to pasture nearer the farm in preparation for our whole herds TB test in a couple of weeks.
I weaned all the lambs from the ewes in the week commencing the Monday 17th August. the lambs came of the shearlings a week later. After a few days of getting used to the change, 185 potential ewe lambs which were ear marked at lambing time as being of the correct breeding, were drawn out and taken to some good diverse white clover leys. They will be pushed here to be at the correct weight and size before tupping, the ones that don't quite make it will then be finished at the back end of the year. The rest of the lambs were moved, on mass, to where we took first cut silage, where there is a good mix of grass, red clover and lucerne. From here the majority of them will finish and we’ll simply rotate around the fields on this part of the farm.
I’ve also carried on selling five lambs to the farm shop every other week, and we sent 50 to St. Merryn Meats on Wednesday 26th August. They came back with good grades and weights, yet were still a poor price. A larger batch should be fit to be sent in the coming couple of weeks, and we will continue to do over the next few months.
Some of the ewes have gone across the stubbles, prior to the combine before we plough aiding in a weed strike. They have gone onto different levels of pasture body condition as a result. Over the next few weeks, along with some ewes already split off, the data recorded at lambing will be considered as we sort the rest of them and look at the culls we’ve drafted off in more detail. The rest of the ewes will then continue to get back into the right condition to allow them to go to the tup later in the year.
e been a part of. For my future plans, I hope to maintain small and constant improvements in the flock and, above all, continue to learn not only
across the sheep sector/enterprise but across all my roles and responsibilities.
The month since my last update has involved a range of work, along with our fourth NSA Next Generation delivery session. I could unfortunately only make the first of our two day session to St. Merryn Meats, but again it was a good day and very impressive to see how such a large abattoir and company can run at such high outputs and on such a large scale.
We had our yearly TB test. After years of being severely under restriction, we have been clear for the past two years, but right at the end of this test we had another reactor and so now go back to being tested every three months.
The rest of the month has involved moving certain groups of cattle around, tidying up last bits of grazing and keeping everything fresh. The milkers have been in at nights for a while now, and as of this Friday around just under half of the cattle are now in and housed. These are fed a range of clamp silages varying in quality, some hay, some bailed silage and some bailed haylage.
Currently allot of the electric fencing is out for the sheep. This ranges across some stubbles for the ewes, certain quality white clover leys for the ewe lambs and red clover and lucerne for the fat lambs. Fat lambs have been constantly weighed and monitored throughout the month.
The ewes have been sorted through in more detail and placed into groups depending on condition scores, age, previous data etc. Early tupping preparation and plans are being put in place, as well as grassland management in preparation for flushing and/or improving or holding certain ewes or groups back.
The tups have been sorted through and two new Primeras have been bought through one of the Innovis sales. We’ve also set up a swap with a farmer we met previously through Innovis to save having to change tups every year. This year we were able to change three of the highlanders we purchased last year for his three. This relationship is clearly built on allot of trust, but has gone well this year and hopefully will continue into the future. The tups have all got to know each other and are settled, fit, strong and back out on grass.
The rest of the month has involved other general jobs and office work, along with all the winter cropping land being ploughed, worked down and drilled. Just the grassland is left to be ploughed and combi drilled, which should be completed within the next week all being well and providing the weather holds.
I have thoroughly enjoyed the year long Ambassador programme and got more from and out of it than I originally thought. The main thing I picked up was many smaller things to help me, such as time management, better use of available management tools, certain new or different methods, group discussions and just listening and taking in everyone’s opinions. All the different opinions and views have been a great learning tool. The tour around the abattoir right the way through all the processes was very interesting, and I particularly enjoyed the session based in Yorkshire and Lancashire. It was very interesting, especially the tours by the Wool Board and the farm visits concluding with the excellent share farming agreement of John Henderson and David Coates.
In terms of the sheep it has been a very pleasing past month, largely due to the mild weather, as the grass hasn’t really stopped growing and has made management much easier. Lambs have been finishing very nicely and, judging how well they have been and how the remaining ones look, it seems that along with the vet’s advice we have controlled and almost eradicated the haemonchus that plagued us so badly in previous years. Since early November the ewes have all been on a rising plain of grass, and have either maintained a good condition or got to where I wanted them to be. The tups, a mixture of Lleyns and Highlanders depending on the set groups, will go
out on 27th November and, from these, the females will potentially be kept as breeding replacements. A group of 112 ewes that we do not want to keep the replacements from have gone to two Primera to produce purely meat finishing lambs. Two Highlanders will go out with 114 ewe lambs on the 30th, and this
again was much more pleasing this year with only a small number not making the weight to go to the tup.
In conclusion, my year as an Ambassador has been beneficial, not purely through things I’ve picked up and learnt but largely through contacts made and the group we have been a part of. For my future plans, I hope to maintain small and constant improvements in the flock and, above all, continue to learn not only
across the sheep sector/enterprise but across all my roles and responsibilities.