Blog: George Hartley-Webb
31st December 2015
George Hartley-Webb (23) is an NSA Next Generation Ambassador 2015 from Bury St Edmunds , Suffolk. As a self-employed shepherd with regular work for one of the biggest store finishers in the country, George gets to handle more sheep than a lot of people. He sorts up to 3,000 store lambs a week at busy times of the year, choosing up to 1,000 a time to go to slaughter. He also looks after 1,600 January and February-lambing Suffolk Mules from turn-out to weaning, while simultaneously running his own flock of 100 North Country Mules on various grazing agreements. George says he is keen to build up his business skills, flock health, marketing and management knowledge, and with plans to purchase an EID reader and new software is also looking for ways to better understand and utilise performance data.
Scroll down for entries from George about his farming year in 2015.
It has been a very busy start to 2015 with Andrew Foulds, who I work for. We have now finished the main bulk of the commercial ewes, with them being turned out onto turnips. With 1,000 ewes and their lambs out on keep, all behind electric wire, I don’t get a lot of the morning left before moving onto the store lambs. These are my other main responsibility for this time of year.
The ewes and lambs are looking well; it has been a kind winter to us so far! The lambing yard is now having a quick turnaround for April lambing. The store lambs are becoming increasingly intensive, as we are now sending up to two loads a week. I am pleased to say that my own ewes are now in the lambing shed, which I rent in the village that I live in, making it very handy. As I under-looked the turnip intake, I had to turn to putting fodder beet out on grass for them. This year, to save money, I have taken to mixing my own ewe ration, which is a mainly oats and beans. I am very pleased with this combination and the ewes are looking great and bagging up nicely, ready to start lambing hopefully this weekend. As this is my first lambing for myself I am a little bit dubious but also very excited for the outcome.
The first session held by the NSA for the Ambassadors was very interesting and a great opportunity to meet 11 other like-minded people in the industry. I thought the delivery sessions were very insightful to the modern way of farming and continuing to move it forward. The farm visit kindly given to us by Will Halford was great to see how other farmers do things and why. I am very much looking forward to the next delivery session in May.
The grass is green and the lambs are on the ground. This time of year is generally a quiet period but we normally end up being just as busy catching up on the jobs from winter. All the lambs have now gone from the early lambing flocks, and we have had a positive April lambing with good weather and plenty of grass to turn the ewes and lambs out to. The lambs from the April lambing flock have been weaned this week, so it will be interesting to see how they perform. The Blackies on the heathland have had some great lambs this year too, being crossed with the Charollais tup and it will be interesting to see what they kill out like.
I have been involved in organising the NSA Eastern Region Youthful Shepherds Day, which was held at Darley on Saturday 6th June. The event went very well with a good turnout of people on the day. There were 17 people competing in the young shepherds competition, which meant the bar was kept on its toes! With some great feedback, I look forward to helping organise the next one.
My own flock of mules had a great lambing, with good lambs on the ground. Something I want to look into for next year is sponging, as I am very busy at that time of year and I see it as a way to get my own sheep lambed and out to grass in a shorter period of time. I have managed to gain some more grazing since my last blog, which also came with five pedigree redpoll cattle as an added bonus. Looking ahead, I am looking forward to researching the benefits of grazing sheep and cattle alongside each other.
It has been a busy couple of months with Andrew Foulds, who I work for, as we’ve been selling most of his early lambing flock. Even though it is such a shame to see them go, I’ve gained some much needed experience. We’ve also had the busy, yet slightly painful task of repairing the electric fencing around all the rented ground, since it disappeared underneath the spring growth quite some time ago, we’re now looking forward to getting some store lambs on the ground for the new season.
I went to the first of the sheep breeding fairs at Thame farmers market to help Andrew sell some of his ewes, which we managed to do even on the current trade. We also ended up buying 70 mules thieves, which have had lambs, for myself. I think I will be living off baked beans on toast for the rest of the year, but I’m very pleased with them and they are looking a picture out in the field. I’m planning on heading to the NSA Eastern Region Ram Sale at Melton Mowbray in a few weeks too, where I will hopefully be purchasing some more tups.
My Red Polls have been doing well and their calves are growing at an astonishing rate. My only concern is that the Red Polls really are rather fat. I’m struggling to keep the weight off them at the moment, which will not help for bulling or calving and so I have been doing some research on Stabiliser cattle. I went to look at a local farmer, Richard Evans’, herd of Stabilisers, which were very impressive. They had some great records of calf gain weights and were easy calving. I just need to have a look at some figures and cash flow budgets to see how it all comes together and finally maybe speak to the bank!
As a young, self-employed shepherd I found the NSA Next Generation Ambassador programme very helpful in building my knowledge within the sheep sector. You can get very stuck in a rut with always being busy and making yourself think you never have time to do anything. The programme actually gets you out there, talking to people who have actually been and done it and made a living from sheep farming. It opened a whole new way of forward-thinking for me. The support from farm visits to veterinary to business sessions was incredible.
One of the points which became clear in most sessions was the drive for efficiency. Therefore I intend to start recording everything I can from scanning through to weaning, to then see where I can make changes for the better. Another thing I took on was marketing your end product correctly, whether that be ewe lambs or butchers lambs. I would like to base this around grassfed lamb, as this cuts your costs of production and also has health benefits. I will be speaking to local butchers and
restaurants in the future to see what we can arrange for this year’s lamb crop.
My plans for the future are to expand, and try and make the jump from being in a full-time position for other people with my own sheep in spare time to the other
way around, so I can live off my own flock. I have been keeping my ears open for any share farming opportunities, which should be easier now as this was one
of the aspects we covered on the third Ambassador delivery session. I feel a lot more up-to-date with the sheep sector now, and have now made some brilliant friends and contacts. I would recommend the programme to anybody who is young and enthusiastic and wants to build their knowledge.