A low input system with minimal labour requirements has proven to be the key to success and survival for Montgomery sheep farmer, Neil Oughton.
His focused 12-month management plan, and the development of a tried-and-tested system, has led to cutting costs, labour and greenhouse gas emissions on the farm.
Alongside wife Karen, Neil farms 327 acres at Lymore Farm near Montgomery, Powys. With Neil being the only source of labour, he has focused on three aspects to maintain the production efficiency, sustainability and profitability of the business; genetics, flock health, and utilisation of grass.
The Oughton’s keep 200 pedigree Charollais ewes, as well as an established flock of 550 Highlander ewes which they chose to use due to lower feed requirements than traditional lowland breeds and the ewe’s suitability for outdoor rearing and easy lambing. He sells over 930 lambs at an average weight of 42kg through Welshpool livestock market.
Animal health is an area that Neil will not compromise. With a strong emphasis on prevention rather than cure, he works closely with the local veterinary group and follows a health plan which meets the specific requirements of his system. Lambs are monitored closely for endoparasites and faecal egg counting is carried out regularly to assess the worm burden within the flock and ensure effective use of anthelmintics.
Utilising grass through controlled grazing is also important for efficient production. Moving sheep onto the next pasture every four days improves grass growth and encourages a more even spread of nutrients from the livestock back into the ground. Rotational grazing also means that higher stocking rates can be sustained on the land.
Neil finds that retaining the quality of grass leads to a number of cost savings. He said: “It eliminates the need to feed concentrates to the ewes at lambing by extending the grazing season, and reduces the need for conserved forage. The Highlander ewes are out wintered on stubble crops, cutting housing costs and significantly reducing labour.
“The lambs are sold from 10 weeks old and finishing them early also adds to the efficiency of the farm. This low input system allows me to control my cost of production. I need to be in control of all of my costs within a volatile market place.”
Prys Morgan, Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) said: “In the face of political and environmental change, and fast-moving market conditions and consumer demands, it is crucial that our red meat sector becomes more resilient, sustainable and profitable. Neil has shown that, by adopting a system that works on his farm that also fits in with the increasing competitiveness of the marketplace, running an efficient business is possible.”
HCC has produced a number of pamphlets to encourage efficient production, ranging from animal health and welfare to sheep and grassland management. These can be found on the website: http://hccmpw.org.uk/publications/farming_and_industry_development/
The Welsh Government recently launched the new Farm Business Grant which is designed to help farmers in Wales improve the economic and environmental performance of their agricultural holdings. It provides a 40% contribution towards capital investments in equipment and machinery that offer clear and quantifiable benefits to farm enterprises.
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