Blog: Dan Pritchard
1st March 2016
Dan Pritchard (30) is a NSA Next Generation Ambassador 2016 from Swansea. With a farm shop and a specialist product in the form of salt marsh lamb, Dan will be an interesting addition to the group of Ambassadors this year. Last year he and his family sold 600 of the lambs from their 1,000-ewe flock privately, with plans to increase this number in the future.
The salt marsh is at Llanrhidian, on the Gower peninsular of South Wales. The family has common rights to graze 4,000 acres here, as well as the 250-acre farm. Dan says: “The tide book is our bible.
We get one every Christmas and plan everything around it. Shearing, weaning, lambing, everything is down to that.”
The added aspect of selling lamb privately, through the farm shop and directly to butchers, means Dan is particularly interested in promotions and protected brands. For his family’s Gower Salt Marsh Lamb and for wider industry brands, Dan would like to see more activity on social media and online to add value to lamb as a premium product. Dan is keen to embrace and share best practice messages in his role as an NSA Next Generation Ambassador, saying EID, genetics and biosecurity are of particular interest to him and his business.
Top fact: Dan has recently joined the Pasture-Fed Livestock movement and would like to see more potential exploited from consumer interest in this area.
Scroll down for entries from Dan about his farming year so far in 2016.
We have had a good growing year in South Wales so far, as I guess most of the UK has, with the grass looking very good in most of the fields. The downside of course was the extreme wet weather, which has meant the fields have only been lightly grazed as not to cause to much of a mess, and we also had to house the ewe lambs, which were being strip grazed on fields of turnips and kale, a month earlier than we had anticipated. On the plus side, we now have about five acres extra of root crops for the ewes to graze at lambing time.
We scanned the ewes in January and ewe-lambs in February and were quite pleased with the results of 5% above what we normally scan at for the ewes, and about 20% higher for the ewe-lambs.
At the beginning of February, we were quite lucky to have a few dry days in a row, which allowed us to get the majority of the farms soil samples done from a company that delivers anaerobic digestants to our farm, which are used as a soil conditioner and fertiliser replacement for the grass and crops. We also got the muck spreader working and spread almost 700 tonnes on our grassland to push the spring grass up for the lambing period. Another dry day job we managed to do was to pick about 15 acres of fodder beet, some we will sell to local farmers but the majority we will use ourselves. We are currently feeding this to our ewes scanned for twins and triplets and we’ll also sprinkle some around the fields as the lambs hit the ground.
As I write this, we are a few days into the start of lambing. It has been a bit of a slow start, and typically the busiest evening so far was at the same time as Wales were playing France in the six nations! A sunny week has meant the early born twins are outside, strip grazing fodder beet by day and brought inside by night, but as it gets warmer they will be outside permanently. The singles are in a separate field to the twins, strip grazing the left over kale and turnip fields. Once lambs from both bunches turn a day old, they are moved on better grass to mother-up and grow on better.
As March draws out, we are probably just over half way through our lambing and so far it’s been going quite well. I have been keeping meticulous records on to how many lambs and ewes we lose over this period, the main reason being to see if result warrant injecting ewes for abortion issues.
Our strip-grazing root crop management has gone very well, and my estimate as to how much kale to give the singles looks to be a good one. The in-lamb twins are also being strip-grazing fodder-beet and have got a lot left in front of them, meaning I’ll also be able to graze the ewe lambs once they start to lamb about mid-April. I’ve just brought the second batch of twin ewes back to the main farm for lambing so I can keep an eye on them in a field close to the farm house. If we continue the way we’re going, it looks like lambing will finish the field around 10th April, just in time for muck spreading and ploughing to get the fields ready for the next fodder beet crop.
We have been quite lucky with the weather this March, with it being surprisingly dry for most of it. Although the grass didn't quite start growing as early as I would of liked, it is a lot easier for the new-born lambs when its dry. The recent storm that blew through Britain did give us a bit of a hammering for a few days and resulted in the twin baring ewes being put in the shed full time for a few days which meant constant feeding, watering or putting down clean bedding. Ewes outside are so much easier!
With most of the ewes having now finished lambing, we are able to concentrate on the ewe lambs. We have about 150 to deal with, with about 30 of these scanned for twins and the rest for singles. These are treated the same as the ewes. They are outside all day except for been brought in for half an hour to get 1/2 Kg of oats, then it’s back out for the night. So far they are lambing quite well, with only a few losses.
As we are coming to the end of lambing, we are starting to think about the coming years crops. We soil sampled the whole farm over the winter because we take sewerage sludge from Welsh Water and they need every field sampled every three to four years. As a result of this, we found a few of our fields in one block to have a low PH level. 40 tonnes of ground lime has since been ordered and spread by contractors. This is the first time I’ve seen this done on the farm, and I’m am quite interested to see the results. We are also in the process of getting the fodder beet seed drilled, and for the last week or so we have been spreading as much dung as we can on the appropriate fields before a contractor turned up with his plough to cultivate the fields and make for a nice seed bed.
During the middle of the month, the first ewes were put on the salt marsh for the first time and were mainly singles or empty ewe lambs. We like to stagger putting ewes on there as there can be a problem with miss-mothering if too many go at the same time. These will be on the marsh for almost a month before a high-tide causes me to have to gather them and put them back to their original fields, which by this time should have had a nice rest period and a nice bit of grass regrowth!
Now that May is almost finished, we have finally finished lambing. The remaining, long overdue ewe lambs are now assumed empty and are being moved to join up with the rest of the lambed ewe lambs which we’re checking every other day. Needless to say the day after we did this, I got an extra two lambs out of a couple of them. All the ewes are now on marsh with their lambs being ear notched, paint marked and wormed. It looks like the ewes have lambed at about 140% from a scanning percentage of about 160%, a figure I’m pleased with as I did think we had a slight problem with abortion early on in the lambing period. The ewe lambs will be kept in the fields and rotated about on a block of land until their lambs are weaned, after which the ewe lambs will join into the main flock. Their lambs will be either sold as stores or taken on to finish, depending on the grass situation on the farm.
With the fields now empty, we started to prepare the ground for silage, hay or fodder beet. The beet fields are now completely drilled and just received the first spray for weeds and hopefully next week I will be getting on there with a bit of nitrogen to give them a boost. This year we have been seeing a particular problem with weeds in the grass fields and have decided to hit them all quite hard with some pricey sprays, hopefully this will work and stop the thistles and docks taking over.
The beginning of June brought the start of the Salt marsh lamb season and we were able to start in our on-farm butchery on the 7th, cutting 15 lambs for the week. We will be butchering this amount on average every Tuesday now until the end of December. Orders have been going well this year, and by the end of this month we’d sold 30 lambs more than we did in the same period last year. We’ve also started selling lambs to a company called Ovation, who specialise in sending lamb into butchers in the London area. So far it’s had 40 lambs from us over two batches and with only one lamb being out of spec so far, we are quite happy with the way it is going.
Planning when the contractors can come to shear our ewes has been another task this month, it very much depends on the tide and when all the sheep are going to be off the marsh and into the fields close to our sheds. We managed to get them all sheared over a few dry days in mid-June without too much fuss. The next dry spell we had saw us cut 30 acres of heyledge to use as winter keep for the ewes and in the build up to lambing, we’ll probably need about another ten acres to see us through.
We’ve reseeded 15 acres of grass this year which is looking good so far. A few weeds have sprung up in one of the fields, but as this has a high clover content we can't spray them out and have been topping the field every week to get rid of them. This seems to be working and in a few days our ewe lambs will be moved there to keep on top of it.
The final job for June was to dip all the ewes and the lambs not destined to finish in the ten weeks that followed. This is done to stop the flies affecting them and to stop any sheep scab which can occur from grazing commons. The remaining lambs, due to finish, had a bit of pour-on on them with a short withdrawal period.
The usual jobs for this month have been completed in the last few weeks. We’ve weaned around 250 lambs, which we then put into the best field of grass to finish to hopefully have away by the end of August, after which a new batch will be weaned and put in their place. We have also weaned the lambs off the ewe lambs, with the mothers being put back to the marsh for the first time in 6 months and their lamb being sold as stores. We also managed to make about 80 bales of round-bale hay, which will be fed to first to the ewe lambs before we move them up onto silage. I think we are about 50 bales short for our own use this year, but second cut grass should fill that gap. We’ve managed to sort through our ewes in the past few weeks, and have sold 121 old ewes as a result. We had a decent price for them but of course it means we will have to replace them soon, which means a nice shopping trip for me. We also sold all of our lambs out of the ewe lambs in one hit, which has freed up a bit of grass for weaned lambs to go onto.
I managed to get a few days away from the farm recently for a trip to the Royal Welsh Show for the Thursday and also to take part in the latest NSA Next Generation session which this time took us to Malvern, Worcestershire incorporating a day spent at the NSA Sheep Event. Both were really good, and it was nice to look around all the trade stands to take in some new ideas and also to sit through a few seminars that the experts were giving.
The busiest part of this month will hopefully be the upcoming music festival which will take place on the farm for a weekend. This is the third year we’ll host it and we are expecting around 500-600 people to be present. Hopefully the weather will be good, as this makes it a lot nicer for people to enjoy themselves and a lot easier for us to clean up afterwards! As ever, the first Sunday this month will also see Gower Show take place, now in its 99th year, it is the main agricultural show in the local area and attracts about 10,000 visitors a year. As usual, the day will see me park cars with a team of about 20 others so I don't actually get much chance to look around show!
As we entered this month, I decided I needed to sort out a few weeds which had come up in our grazing fields and in recently reseeded field I killed a load of docks which had popped up in the last few years. Sadly though, this also destroyed the clover that was in the award.
We’ve had a few trips to the auction mart this month to sell cull ewes, about 125 in total and we received an average price for them, but as most of them had given me problems at lambing, I was glad to see them go. A few weeks later we were back at the same mart to buy in some replacement ewes and have bought 178 so far, with a few more still to get as we won’t be keeping any ewe lambs back for ourselves this year.
Once back on the farm these ewes were vaccinated against abortion. This is the first time we’ve given this, as we noticed it become a bit more of a problem last year so decided to try it. After this, the whole flock was dipped to sort out any fly or scab problem.
The final job was to spread muck. We receive a large amount of sewerage sludge from the water company over the year and as it was dry we managed to get 300 tonnes spread on about 40 acres of land which had either been recently grazed baled ground.
At the start on this month I managed to get a few days holiday sorted and spent a week in Lisbon, Portugal. Although it was nice to get away, I didn't see a blade of grass when we visited the countryside in the 30 degree heat, not something I imagine would be much fun to live or work in. It makes you realise how much we need to wet weather to be able to grow grass and feed livestock the way we do here in the UK.
We are still selling lambs, about 35 on average per week now (averaging 18kg), but that will slow down as the year goes on. We have about 250 lambs left which I hope will be gone before the new year. In the middle of the month, we started to put the rams in with the ewes to aim for a mid-march lambing. It’s about a month later then the past few years because we are hoping to lamb them all outside (weather permitting). We have decided not to keep any ewe lambs back for breading this year and instead bought 100 extra ewes. We got some Aberdale cross yearlings from west Wales which are a bit smaller than our normal mules, but will be interesting to see how they perform on the common through the year.