When his employers offered him a tenancy on 120 acres near Okehampton in Devon, Hefin Llwyd took little persuading to accept.
Splitting his time between his employers’ 700-strong flock of Mules, Lleyn x Mules and Romneys, and his own pedigree flock of 340 breeding Lleyn ewes, Mr Llwyd has shown an appetite for commercial nous and technical excellence.
Having worked for a number of people around the country, he is now reaping the rewards of the experience he gained managing his pedigree flock for a profit while receiving no single farm payment and paying a commercial rent.
“In 2001 I bought my first Lleyn ewes for myself,” Mr Llywd says. “I could see there was going to be an explosion in the breed. I bought some for my employers too. The longevity is fantastic.”
Having run his expanding “Dyfniant Lleyn” flock in with his employers’ sheep, the Farm Business Tenancy offered Mr Llywd the chance to create some separation – the River Taw acting as a natural boundary between the two blocks enabling Maedi Visna-free status in the pedigree flock to be maintained.
Since then he has taken on a further 36 acres on his employers’ boundary.
The pedigree flock is Signet recorded, Mr Llywd says. “We’ve done maternal recording for nine years. It’s still my main index. I don’t want to go down the route of having lambing problems in the future.”
Everything is bluetongue vaccinated.
While the grassland is not organic, no ammonium nitrate is applied with only sporadic use of urea. An autumn dressing of 0:10:25 is used according to soil indices, quarter of the farm being tested each year.
Re-seeding of pastures only occurs “where they really need it”, and a number of the fields cannot be ploughed so a grass/clover mix is broadcast. Less than 10% of the farm needs reseeding a year, he says.
“We’re trying to use small and medium clovers which will tolerate heavier sheep grazing and some nitrogen.”
Selling increasingly from home, Mr Llywd sets a fixed price according to the Signet maternal index. “More and more commercial farmers are beginning to accept it,” he says.
He’s also a proponent of electronic identification for his pedigree flock. “It’s a time-saving piece of kit.” The detailed information allows him to know what’s performing well. “To me that’s worth a small fortune,” he adds.
But Mr Llywd does accept it’s not for everyone. “It’s a valuable tool for the pedigree flock, but the jury is still out for commercial flocks.”
So what of the future?
“My main aim is to build up a farm enterprise that is totally efficient and able to hand on in 25-30 years’ time,” he says. “I want 500 breeding ewes producing 1000 lambs a year, carrying as many females as I can into the breeding sales and males into the fat lamb trade.
“In the short term I need to make strides genetically. I’m pushing for worm resistance and foot rot resilience. The ethos is an easy lambing system, although not necessarily low input.”
And he is positive about the fortunes of the UK sheep sector, while acknowledging the need for the next generation to come in, of which he is already a great supporter. “We need to get more young blood in. It’s stagnated for far too long.”
- Tenant farmer on 120 acres near Okehampton, Devon, plus manager on a further 300 acres owned by his landlords
- Land from 600 to 850ft
- 340-ewe pedigree Lleyn flock, plus 700-strong commercial flock of mainly Mules, Lleyn x Mules and Romneys
- Conventional farm focusing on good grazing management and minimal nitrogen inputs
- Environmental management includes lake excavations, tree planting, wildflower meadow mix, and river margin management
What the judges liked:
- Sound technical ability and focus with a keenness to read up and learn
- Willingness to embrace new techniques such as EID
- Profitable business without the help of the single farm payment