• Crosby Cleland
  • Saintfield, northern ireland

If you don’t measure it you can’t manage it. That’s the favoured philosphy of Saintfield, Northern Ireland, sheep farmer Crosby Cleland.

It’s fair to say if you can measure it Crosby has found a way of analysing it, from fertiliser use to the “gift weight” given away with every lamb over his abattoir’s required specification Crosby has recorded it and aims to improve on it.

But, while many may suggest this level of recording and analysis is more suited to the intensive sectors of livestock production, such as pig and poultry, Crosby is adamant the time he spends in the office is some of the most productive time in his working week.

“It allows me to gain a full understanding of the business and see where we are making money and equally where money is being drained from the enterprise.”

The desire to improve even further has been the driving force behind the changes to Crosby’s flocks in recent years, with the original crossbred flock gradually being phased out in favour of more prolific and easier care Lleyn ewes.

“Lleyns are lighter ewes, requiring less feed and allowing higher stocking rates, but rearing a similar weight of lamb as bulkier crossbred ewes. Last year we achieved 30kg/ha of lamb more than the year before and the aim is to keep improving this figure.

“But the future for the Lleyn may not be as bright as it has been in the past few years. The premiums earned on Lleyn ewes in recent years are likely to fall off as the breed popularity peaks, so we have to ensure our system isn’t reliant on these sales.”

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To this end Crosby has been making significant steps towards securing a dedicated supply contract and has now begun breeding Highlander composite sheep with a view to supplying breeding stock to farms contracted to Marks & Spencer. “We were offered the chance to take some embryos last autumn and took it. It may have been a rash decision, but we will have a product we know we have a market for at a fair price.”

And beyond this he is also working with Agri Food and Biosciences Institute in a number of trials aimed at easing the workload on Northern Irish sheep farms.

“Easier care flocks are a passion of mine and something which has developed into a necessity as my other business, contract fencing, has expanded. I am usually tied up in the office or away from the farm with one of the 14 fencing teams, so I only have one man at home to manage the fencing yard, where we sell fencing supplies and gates, and the 800-ewe flock.

This continued drive to easier management also extends to the farm layout, with all groups of sheep able to be gathered and moved by one man via a series of grass tracks alongside fields. On top of this, EID has been invested in to make handling, and hence recording of the detailed data Crosby demands, simpler and quicker.

“We’ve also been lucky to be a Focus Farm, hosting other farmers keen to learn from our experiences. This has enabled us to invest in handling equipment which has also made flock management simpler.”

Away from the farm Crosby is heavily involved with the Northern Irish sheep industry having been a founder member of the Northern Irish branch of NSA and also acting as a trainer in a range of rural skills at Greenmount College, helping farmers both young and old to improve their skills and hence farm practice.

Having been a long-time supporter of the local lamb marketing group, Strangford Down, Crosby’s farm is also host to the group’s collection centre, enabling group members to drop smaller loads of lambs off to a central collection point for onward transport to the abattoir. “It’s not a money spinner for me, but it helps cut other group members costs and improves efficiency at the abattoir, too.”

What the judges liked

  • Business-like approach to sheep farming
  • Clear vision of clients’ requirements
  • Progressive breeding strategy
  • Contributing to industry improvement
  • Willing to share knowledge and skills

Farm facts

  • 76ha (186 acre) grassland farm
  • 750 ewes and followers