Blog: James Wright
1st March 2016
James Wright (23) is an NSA Next Generarion Ambassador from Chichester, Sussex. With a job off the farm as an agricultural sales rep, James is getting used to juggling responsibilities and ensuring there is always someone around to manage the sheep if he’s not there. This managerial element of his activity will stand him in good stead as he pursues him goal of lambing 1,000 low input Romney ewes by 2018 and hopefully gaining a tenancy to ensure a more secure base. He is currently running 250 New Zealand Romneys and 150 Welsh Mountain cross Texels.
James is a strong advocate of the sheep sector and believes taking steps to exploit the diversity of systems and ensure a more even year-round supply would be a great step forward, alongside a move away from relying on subsidies. He is not afraid to speak his mind and, as someone who does not claim support payments, is happy to challenge those who do on the impact it has for young people trying to get into the industry. As a first generation farmer, James says he is excited about the opportunities as an NSA Next Generation Ambassador to make contacts within the industry and learn more about the heritage of an industry that he is new to.
Top fact: In addition to his business commitments, James is a chaplain for the Farming Communities Network, meeting with farmers who have called the helpline for pastoral support.
Scroll down for entries from James about his farming year so far in 2016. You can also keep up to date by following Jameson twitter @JPBWChi.
We are little under a month away from lambing now, and the ewes will be coming up back off tack to lambing ground next week. We’ll also be doing a health MOT as they’ve barely been handled since October.
This year we will be looking particularly at body score, which we’ll record as well as ewe weight. Having gone to a great talk by AHDB and heard how it effects long-term ewe output, we’ll be mapping the results over the course of the year to see how it effects lamb growth and fertility for next year. Although we might be able to make management decisions based on a body condition score this year, going forward I hope we can build up a picture on how we can manage ewe nutrition for maximum output.
All the ewes are lambed outdoors in an old 40-acre quarry, which provides ample protection from wind. Half of the quarry is also used as an off-road race track in the summer, which has added complications but its only 15 minutes from my house and my next nearest piece of ground is 35 minutes; so needs must. Once lambs reach a day old, they are moved with their mothers to my main holding, which is about a 20-minute drive, this is the first year I won’t have to borrow a trailer and dividers as I’ve finally got my own!
I’ll be hoping we can maintain our record of low lamb mortality from last year, as we were at 11% from scanning to weaning, and I was quite pleased with that given that the ewes are lambing outside and the mild weather will also help. However, for the first time this year I have a busy footpath running through the centre of one my holdings, signs are up so I’ll have to hope dog walkers listen!
Our ewes came off Winter Tack on 15th March and they’ve put on bundles of condition over winter. Lambing is due to start on 10th April and will all take place outside in an old quarry, which is thankfully dry and will provide some shelter. At of the beginning of the month I picked up some Lleynn cross Texel ewes from a neighbour who was downsizing, they are enormous and should produce some cracking lambs I hope!
We are feeding fodder-beet and straw to keep things ticking along, as we are trying to save as much grass as we can for once lambing gets going. Next year, I intend to tup earlier so that we go straight into lambing after our tack ends with only a 10-day gap.
I’ve just completed our AHDB stocktake and am now looking forward to taking part in the Progressive Sheep Group meetings this summer. The farm is continuing to grow further in distance as well as size and we now extend to 300 acres over 150 miles. The joys of first generation farming!
Lambing is well underway with a third of the flock dropping lambs in the last week. Our ewes have spent the last month on fodder beet in a field used as a race track on alternate weekends, with the sheep moving onto grass for the track days. Considering they maybe haven’t had quite the right diet, I’m incredibly impressed by the size of the lambs and loses have been low even with the poor weather. Up until this morning I still had 60 acres of ground underwater and although this has now receded, the pasture needs a good week of sun and rain to dry it out. Managing my grazing plan as a result is proving difficult as I had hoped to put some fertiliser on it!
It’s been an incredibly busy month with shearing, weaning and attending festivals where I’ve been putting on a hog and lamb roast, as well as the most recent NSA Next Generation Ambassador session which incorporated a day spent at the NSA Sheep Event. A particular highlight during the last Ambassador session was a visit from Wyn Owen, a change consultant who talked at length on how we manage change in our businesses and something I think is particularly important with everything going on post Brexit.
However time away does take its toll and the sheep have probably suffered a little bit. Weaning probably came a week too late and my decision not to remove a lamb from ewe lambs who had twins certainly wasn’t a good one as a few of them are leaner than I would like. Next year I’ll be lambing earlier and now I have enough fields and sheep I’ll be running them in different groups rather than one mob which shall make management easier. The first lambs go this week on Tesco’s Cost of Production contract and its exciting to see the grading results having not sent anything dead weight before.
I’ve had good news in that I’ve been short-listed for New Entrant of the Year at the British Farming Awards. I find out in October if I’ve won but even being short-listed is a great honour in itself!
It’s been a busy month, the big news being that I’ve moved from West Sussex to Wiltshire to embark on a one-year graduate diploma at the Royal Agricultural University, Cirencester.
With the majority of my whether lambs now away, the few that are left are destined for my growing hog and lamb roast business. I’ve taken 12 bookings already for next year, from festivals to weddings, and being able to get an additional return for farm produce has helped flesh out the books.
I’ve recently been able to pick up some tack for my expanding flock, all in one location, something I wasn’t able to do in Sussex. Although it was sad to leave, it was definitely the right decision. And Dolphin Sheep Fair in September was a great opportunity to catch up with friends before I completed my move.
Since my last blog, we've been getting ready for winter. We have sold a lot of lambs as early store this year. I’m yet to decide if it's been the best decision yet, as we have lots of grass now I’m starting to think we might have sold a few too many. I sold some Cheviot mule ewe lambs in August too, they sold OK but were still cheap. We got the second cut silage for the sheep done at the end of August. It should be really good stuff and wasn't far off being hay, but unfortunately it just wasn't a big crop. We are going through the ewes again now getting ready for tupping time. The ewes are getting drenched against liver fluke and the gimmers getting vaccinated against enzootic abortion. We will be going through the hoggs to decide what to keep. These will also be treated against fluke and vaccinated to protect them against pasteurella and clostridial diseases. We are going to be especially hard on them this year to reduce numbers slightly.
Its October and at our last NSA Next Generation session we had a great visit to Dunbia, where we did a live to dead training session and had a tour of its processing plant. The sheer scale and cost of food processing awed me. We also visited a farm operating under a share farming agreement where we saw how different skills and team work had revitalised a farm that would have not worked with a traditional tenancy agreement.
On the far, tupping is round the corner and rams will be going in on 5th of November. I bloused and winter sheared the ewe lambs on the middle of October to maximise growth and pregnancy rates. The flock is a year older now and there are a few who are showing their age, however there are a large number of healthy looking replacements coming through too.
Sadly, my much beloved sheep dog Sid has had some breathing difficulties whilst working which was then diagnosed as larynx paralysis. It causes the larynx to collapse whilst working, which isn’t ideal for anyone. He is now enjoying an easy retirement, the trainer who originally sold him to me kindly organised a replacement and so we are now joined by another dog, Dotty.
Our final NSA Next Generation session is fast approaching and I cannot recommend the programme highly enough, I’d urge anyone who’s considering applying to go for it!
We’re now in November which means tupping is around the corner and winter grazing regimes are developing. It’s also that time of year where I polish off the electric fence which has spent the year hiding in the corner of a barn on a pallet, I’m now paying hastily rolling up the last few rolls in March, which are now slightly knotted.
We were encouraged to use and were provided with fecal egg testing kits at our last NSA Next Generation session and whilst I didn’t think I had a worm problem, as I varied wormers, my results were higher than I would have liked. I’m waiting to catch up with the vet to discuss how I can get things under control before lambing.
Securing a tenancy is still proving elusive. I’ve applied for several this year and been interviewed often, so I am hopeful something will be sorted in the near future.
This is my last blog as an NSA Next Generation Ambassador and what a year it’s been. I’ve learnt a lot, met some incredible speakers and spent long evenings talking sheep with my fellow ambassadors. My thanks goes to NSA for providing such a great programme.