Sheep farming can be profitable, but to maximise profits farmers should aim to reduce the amount of work involved in modern sheep production by changing management practices.

Speaking at last week’s Easy Sheep event, Melton Mowbray, SAC sheep specialist John Vipond said much of the work involved with modern sheep production could be eliminated if producers reconsidered their systems.

“There are plenty of options available for reducing workload, including reducing reliance on bought-in feeds and cutting human intervention at lambing.”

However, Mr Vipond told event visitors there were misconceptions about sheep managed in easier care systems.

“Firstly, they are not treated like sheep in extensively managed hill systems.

Easy care sheep should be visited frequently at lambing and should show the signs of intensive shepherding – indifference.”

Additionally, easy care systems are not about year round reliance on grazed grass.

“Trying to do this on most UK farms will fail as there is insufficient grass in spring when you need it most.

Inwintering is necessary on many farms for optimum pasture production and to get high quality feed for late pregnancy and lactation diets.”

On the subject of breed choice Mr Vipond said many breeds fared well under easy care systems, but crossbreds could be troublesome as farmers were often reliant on breeders for replacements and, therefore, had reduced control over selection for easy care traits.

“Many farmers on easy care systems are now closing flocks and breeding from performance recorded tups and selecting ewes on easy care traits.

Ewes requiring lambing assistance or handling outside of main flock gatherings are marked and culled, so their progeny don’t continue to make unnecessary work.”

And with largely unprofitable wool creating much of the work associated with sheep, Mr Vipond said farmers had two main choices – breed for high yielding, high value wool or breed to get rid of wool.

“Both these options are possibilities, but many farmers at the early stages of easy care systems are reluctant to make such a bold move yet.”

jonathan.long@rbi.co.uk