Sheep farmers must analyse their systems and make changes to ensure they are profitable without subsidy, warned Farmers Weekly Sheep Farmer of the Year 2005, Marcus Maxwell.

Lamb producers must examine their businesses and make dramatic changes if they were to survive, speakers said at last week’s Sheep South West event.

“If you’re not making a profit you have to have a long, hard think about your business,” said Marcus Maxwell, Farmers Weekly Sheep Farmer of the Year 2005. Producers needed to decide whether to restructure their business to take it forward, or find a way of making money elsewhere. “It’s all about producing a lamb as cheaply as we can,” he said.

There were two main ways forward, said Charlie Morgan, chief extension officer at IGER. “There is no middle ground any more – you have to either go completely intensive or the total opposite.” This way,farmers could cut costs and improve efficiencies to suit their system.

“The average producer is losing money and we can’t keep on doing that,” said former NSA chairman Peter Baber. “We are all running businesses and we have to have a good handle on what the inputs are costing and what the output is worth. We must do better budgeting and decide whether making an investment will give a payback.”

Careful analysis of feed costs and better targeting of feed uses were one way to cut costs or boost output, said Chris Bartrum, ruminant nutritionist with Southern Valley Agriculture. “There are some new developments out there to improve business efficiencies.”

New medical products could also save labour and input costs, but the best way to improve efficiencies was to overhaul complete flock management, said Mr Baber. “Having a closed flock is the best way forward, but it doesn’t suit everyone. If you’re buying in ewes ensure they are right for the job and they are from a certified health source.”

Having a whole flock health plan could significantly reduce costs, he added.

“Look at the time taken dealing with health issues and the money spent on routine treatments. Do faecal egg counts before drenching and ask if you need to drench at that time. Are you vaccinating enough? You want to keep routine treatments to a minimum and take steps to prevent having to treat any animal on an ad-hoc basis.”

Careful selection of genetics would also yield benefits, said Mr Baber. “You need to select rams based on EBVs, to suit your ewes and your system. I think we need to adjust our breeding to return to an easier-care lamb, which we can produce off grass with absolute minimum use of concentrates.”

fwlivestock@rbi.co.uk