What the Carmarthenshire Farm did to increase profits by 52% per ewe

Monitoring ewes and managing their body condition score (BCS) reduced the rate of infertile and aborted ewes by 6.4% in a Welsh flock, increasing the profit margin by 3 £.34 per ewe at £9.65.

Farm owner Carine Kidd and farmer Peredur Owen run a flock of mainly Easycare ewes alongside a cattle rearing system at Glanmynys, a 215ha (531 acre) Farming Connect demonstration farm near Llandovery in Carmarthenshire.

See also: Tips for feeding and managing ewes for successful lambing

Through their work with Farming Connect, they have worked with industry experts, including independent sheep specialist Lesley Stubbings, to improve the performance of their flock of 1,000 breeding ewes and 300 lambs.

Management changes have included transitioning the herd to the Easycare breed, introducing outdoor lambing, reseeding and growing more forage and winter crops.

Share farmer Peredur Owen and farm owner Carine Kidd © Debbie James

The resulting move away from concentrates has reduced annual feed costs by £1.52 per ewe.

Monitoring flock performance, including assessing ewes’ condition at key milestones, has been fundamental to improving profitability.

Farm Facts

  • 215 ha (531 acre) Farming Connect demonstration farm
  • 1,000 Easycare, Aberfield and Welsh ewes and 300 lambs
  • 250 Angus and Wagyu cattle reared under contract
  • 6 ha (15 acres) of rutabagas for wintering
  • 31ha (77 acres) wooded

Management tool

Mrs. Stubbings informed farmers that the ewe condition assessment was a simple and effective management tool to assess the body reserves of ewes before tupping, at sweeping and at weaning.

This process has become even more of a priority this summer as the pasture has come under pressure from extremely dry weather. By intervening now, Ms Stubbings said, dry matter (DM) blankets could be matched to herd performance and farmers could make informed decisions.

“BCS is the only key performance indicator (KPI) anyone can monitor – it has an overriding effect on all other performance factors,” she said.

“If you want a ewe to perform well, you have to keep her at the right BCS all year round.”

One goal that every herd can achieve is to achieve the correct mating condition level in at least 90% of the herd – for lowland breeds this means a condition score of 3-3.5, and for mountain breeds, 2.5-3.

Following the achievement of the BCS target, in combination with better nutrition, the scavenging percentage in the herd at Glanmynys increased by 9%.

Plan for drier summers

To manage the condition of the ewes during a summer of poor grass growth, the leaner ewes in the Glanmynys flock have been sent to pasture with higher covers, while a daily move system is in place for the fitter sheep.

A reseeding program saw the introduction of multi-species grasslands to Glanmynys (see “Reseeding Preparation Tips”). The goal for them is to sustain the farm against drier summers.

They also contributed to the performance of lambs after weaning. “The obvious benefit was growing in the dry summer conditions, which allowed us to wean the lambs earlier,” Owen said.

A 15-acre crop of rutabagas was also planted for grazing from mid-December to late February. The ewes will then be put out to grass from March 1, before lambing from April 1.

Increased profit

Veterinary and medical costs have doubled over the past three years as the company has invested in metabolic profiling and blood sampling to assess trace element levels and also conducts vaccination to prevent herd lameness.

However, thanks to improved efficiency and a move to a low-input, forage-based system, a ewe’s profit margin has increased by 52%, from £6.31 to £9.65.

Early intervention needed for thinner ewes

With a shortage of grass this year, there will likely be a higher percentage of thinner than normal ewes.

Therefore, early intervention is essential, as it takes 6-8 weeks to increase fat coverage by a condition score.

A single condition score is between 10 and 13% of body weight. In a 70 kg ewe, this amounts to 8-9 kg. Therefore, if an ewe is at BCS 2 and needs to be reared at BCS 3.5, she needs to gain 13 kg.

That’s an extra 10 MJ/day above maintenance requirements for 10 weeks – almost the same as a pre-lambing diet, says independent sheep specialist Lesley Stubbings.

“That means a high level of feed for lean ewes with concentrate supplementation plus hay or silage when the grass is short.”

Practical assessment

Ms. Stubbings advises farmers to physically feel the condition of ewes and not rely on visual assessment.

This can be done by manipulating them in the lumbar region, immediately behind the last rib. The amount of eye muscle and the degree of fat coverage over the spinous and transverse processes should be assessed.

Tips for Preparing for Reseeding

According to an industry expert, farmers are being urged to review the way they apply herbicides for grass killing because too many are using it incorrectly.

Francis Dunne of Field Options says a common mistake farmers make is to apply glyphosate when leaf area is insufficient.

“Many farmers use glyphosate inefficiently,” said Mr Dunne, a speaker at the Farming Connect event at Glanmynys. “If there’s not enough leaf area, the turf won’t be able to absorb enough product to kill it.”

A grass cover of approximately 2,500 kg dry matter (DM)/ha is recommended to provide ideal uptake conditions.

Optimal conditions

Dunne advises a 12-month lead time when planning reseeding to ensure conditions are optimal for sowing.

This preparation should include soil sampling to allow for necessary corrections to nutrient status and scheduling of herbicide applications to control perennial weeds prior to final turf destruction.

He recommends growing a break crop before a grass reseeding. “A grass-to-grass reseeding is less reliable, especially in dry conditions, because of the turf and pests associated with old pastures,” he said.

A break crop of rutabagas is grown on 6 ha (15 acres) at Glanmynys; this will provide winter fodder for pregnant ewes.

Soil-seed contact

Dunne said another goal of the reseeding program should be good seed-to-soil contact.

Although several machine options are available to facilitate and speed up the sowing of grass, the result may be less efficient because the seed is in poor contact with the soil.

“You make a lot of your own luck by sowing seeds,” he said.

“It’s a very expensive process, and it’s worth remembering that a good reseeding takes years, but a bad reseeding will have to be replaced within two or three years because it won’t work.”

Cannabis control

Prompt action is recommended to control weeds in young seeds. “A lot of farmers don’t think about weed control until the weeds are too advanced and the control is less effective,” he warned.

Four to five weeks after seeding is usually when weed seedlings are most susceptible to selective herbicides, if intervention is needed.

However, as herbicides were not effective for use on a wide variety of lawns, Mr Dunne said conventional farmers needed to be sure to control weeds before sowing, and possibly also use bed techniques. of stale seed.

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