Blog: Olly Matthews
1st March 2016
Oliver Matthews (27) is an NSA Next Generation Ambassador 2016 from Yatton, Somerset. A business based on sheep and poultry with enough capacity for his younger brother to be involved too– that is the ambition for Olly on the farm he has taken over from his grandparents at Yatton. He has increased sheep numbers from five to 550 in the last five years, alongside a thriving Christmas poultry, and is even considering phasing out the 70 suckler cows to increase the flock further.
Olly is openly frank about his desire for more knowledge to drive his flock, saying he wants to learn about business analysis and costs of production to better compare the performance of his early and later lambing flocks. He’s also keen to look at grazing options for his Mules, Suffolk Mules and Texel Mules. He is already finishing all his Charollais and Texel cross lambs, sold deadweight, but has ambitions to do this more efficiently in the future. As well as driving his own business, Olly is exciting about opportunities to be involved in the wider sector and NSA in particular, saying sharing experiences and networking with people through committees and groups is the best way for everyone to learn and be inspired.
Top fact: Olly considered being a vet at one stage, even completing a degree in Bioveterinary Science as a stepping stone, but could never shake off his first passion of being a farmer.
Scroll down for entries from Olly about his farming year so far in 2016.
This month has seen the first batch of sheep come through the lambing shed and we had 300 lamb in three weeks. Ewes and lambs have been housed for a little longer than I would have liked, but ground conditions have unfortunately been against us. The last of the ewes and lambs were turned out the day after the first of the NSA Ambassador sessions earlier this month.
The first two day NSA Ambassador session was brilliant, and it was great to meet a group of like minded individuals with the same passion for sheep farming as myself. There was a real consensus among the group that we all saw a future in keeping ewes as part of profitable farming businesses. The diversity of breeds and systems run by members of the group also made for interesting conversation over a pint or two! There were a range of brilliant speakers too, looking at topics from body condition scoring to EBVs. A particular highlight was a farm visit in nearby Gloucestershire, a particular thanks to Kate Robinson, an NSA Ambassador in 2014, for showing us around.
Back at home on the farm, we have been looking at time savings and efficiencies, and this week has seen the farm invest in a second hand fencing kit for the quad. I took it out for its first spin and I was pleased with the time saved compared to doing it all by hand! We are also awaiting delivery of a mobile race at the moment, as we farm over multiple sights and decided it is a piece of kit we cannot do without!
Thoughts are now turning to spring and as the days draw out, the fertiliser spinner will be out and grassland preparations will soon be underway. Discussions around the kitchen table has focused on how many sheep our farm can hold. We have decided to reduce our suckler cows from 70 to 45 and increase our sheep from 550 to around 1000, although the breed of ewes we will expand is still to be decided! With signs of spring emerging we are excited for the year ahead.
The second batch of sheep started lambing on 15th March, consisting mostly of ewe lambs and two tooth ewes. This year we sheared our ewe lambs for the first time and the lambs born from them have been much larger, but they have still been popping them out with minimal trouble.
We have been catching up on some maintenance jobs around the farm, with fencing and tidying up taking up most of our spare time. The chain harrows have been out and a covering of fertiliser has been applied to all our new lays to try and encourage some grass growth. April will see our cows start calving, and hopefully after a TB test they will all be out at grass. With still no sign of single farm payment we are very much looking forward to selling our first fat lambs of the season in early May.
I’ve noticed sheep worrying by dogs in the farming press a lot at the moment, something we unfortunately have had our fair share of trouble with this spring. A number of lambs were found pushed in the rhyme and drowned in two particular fields, which we can only assume is the result of a dog attack. It's not a good feeling when you have worked so hard to get them out alive! I also caught a dog worrying a bunch of ewes and lambs, fortunately no deaths occurred. How we stop this problem with a lot of footpaths on our farm is still and unanswered challenge for me.
Our second block of lambing has now finished and we are happy with the results. The ewe lambs have lambed without too many major hitches and with enough grass in front of them, their lambs are growing on well. I always find now is a good time to reflect on the lambing period whilst everything is still fresh in our minds. An aspect we would like to improve on is record keeping. I think we will have to take the plunge and buy and EID recorder next year.
Grass growth has picked up and we now have enough grass in front of all the sheep. I am still a bit reluctant to shut up too much ground for silage, as cold weather is forecast for the end of April and the grass situation could quickly change. I guess it is just one of those springs.
We have managed to persuade the wildlife trust (which we rent our ground from) to allow us to keep some sheep alongside the cattle throughout the summer. Fingers crossed they are pleased with the benefits of grazing sheep. We have been winter grazing sheep across these fields for a couple of years now and the benefits to the quality of the grazing have been good.
Our attention has now turned to calving and it is going well so far. 50% of the cows have calved in the first two weeks and none required assistance. Hopefully in the next week or so the rest of our cattle can be turned out and it will finally feel like summer is on its way!
We sold our first prime lambs on the 25th of April, they were around 11 weeks old and had only been on grass. The price was ok, enough to justify the early lambing I think. During May we have has some considerable grass growth which is good. We have sheared the first of our ewes and surprisingly they are in great condition, I had thought they might be a bit on the lean side as they have been quite short of grass. We also weighed most of the early lambs and the majority were over 34kg, so we will have a lot of lambs ready for market in May/June. Let’s hope the price stays good! I’ve also spent more time in May catching up with paperwork and admin than I would have liked, it is surprising how much it all backs up when we are busy with the spring work load.
As we get in to the summer routine, lambs will have to be wormed and I am looking forward to learning more about worming practices at the next NSA Next Generation session. I am quite conscious that I do not want to cause a problem with wormer resistance on our farm, so anything I can learn to help combat this must be good thing. I am really looking forward to the next NSA Next Generation session, it will be great to catch up with the other ambassadors and I am sure plenty of lambing stories will be swapped over a few pints!
We’ve taken the decision to tup some older ewes this time that were due to be culled originally. They were in great order at weaning and provide the possibility of selling ewe and lamb couples in the spring. The Suffolk cross and Texel cross ewe lambs have grown really well since weaning and will be tupped to lamb at the end of March (pictured), something we have done now for three years.
The grass can really suffer on our low lying moorland, particularly when we get a wet winter, so we’re in the middle of putting up some polytunnels to allow us to house more ewes earlier if we need to.
The beginning of August saw my brother jet off to Tasmania to spend six weeks working on our cousin’s dairy farm. They calf 1,000 cows in a six-week period with very little assistance and it has really got me thinking about how we can simplify our system and increase stocking rates, without increasing workloads. I’m sure he will come home with plenty of ideas for us to consider.