• Sponsored by Farmplan
  • WINNER: Chris & Caroline Hodgkins, Washington, West Sussex

When foot-and-mouth struck in 2001, movement restrictions meant outdoor lambing was the only option for Chris and Caroline Hodgkins at Locks Farm, Washington, West Sussex.

“We were lambing our Dorsets all over the place,” Chris recalls. “We could see outdoor lambing was the right system but we needed the right breed.”

Being first generation farmers, the couple were probably at something of an advantage in not having a strong breed allegiance. “Over the next two years the Dorsets and Mules went in favour of Romneys.”

Because they were looking to build up a Romney flock quickly on their 1400 tenanted acres, and because they couldn’t be in control of the breeding of available UK stock, they looked to New Zealand genetics. “We were after a very maternal ewe. The New Zealanders were doing what we wanted to do,” he says.

Splitting their flock into four distinct groups, the Hodgkins have been able to focus on selling both breeding stock and fat lambs.

Flock A, the nucleus pedigree flock, comprises 1000 7/8ths NZ genetics ewes. The flock is Signet SRS performance recorded with the top males sold to pedigree and commercial producers with the remaining females transferred to the commercial flock – flock B.

The third grouping is mated to high EBV Hampshire Downs for fat lamb finishing, and the fourth is a purebred Hampshire Down flock.

Quality genetics are a mainstay of the business. Flock A is a joint venture with the top Romney ram breeder in New Zealand. “The joint venture has allowed us to get the genetics we wanted as he wouldn’t sell us his genetics outright,” Chris explains.

Developing the genetic lines in the flocks has been a significant investment, he accepts. “If we weren’t using the NZ genetics and just selling fat lambs we’d be £5 a ewe better off. In three to five years’ time we’ll have paid it off and then it will grow.”

Most of the flock A tups are sold from home, but the Hodgkins accept they will have to “get out” to some of the bigger events to market what they are doing.

Flock health is carefully monitored and internet research works well with veterinary advice in support, says Caroline. The flock is FABBL assured.

There’s no doubt the Hodgkins are a team and along with their staff they have a clear vision about their business and the industry.

“I’m optimistic,” Chris enthuses. “I’m big into performance recording. Why would you trust your future to an animal you don’t know the potential of?”

Hodgkins-main

FARM FACTS

  • 1400 acres of which 1200 acres managed within the South Downs ESA
  • Land in eight main blocks
  • 3000 pure Romney ewes and 24 pedigree Hampshire Down ewes outdoor grazed throughout year
  • All stock bluetongue vaccinated

WHAT MAKES THEM A WINNER?

  • Great team working – the staff are as important as the management
  • Managing a challenging environment – working well with the public and environmental agreements
  • Brought in new genetics and using recording to aid genetic progress with use of big ear tags for easier visual management

SPONSOR’S VIEW

  • Congratulations to Chris and Caroline, who have been able to build a business based around today’s customer needs. They epitomise a modern sheep production approach – using genetics and performance management to build their highly productive flock. Piers Costley, Farmplan

INDEPENDENT JUDGE

  • A big rethink on the farm has allowed Chris and Caroline to overcome challenges enabling them to build an impressive and dynamic business. Kate Phillips