Run by Farmers for the benefit of Farmers – that’s the motto of the May Hill Lamb Producer Group.

Formed in spring 2002, after the closure of Gloucester Market in 2001 and the foot-and-mouth outbreak, the group has its own collection centre and has grown in numbers from four founding members to more than 35 regularly using the scheme.

Founding members Henry Dunn and Mike Credland welcome all sizes of flock and have members with as few as 70 and as many as 3000 ewes. “Following the closure of the market, producers had to travel further afield, making it difficult in terms of time and transport costs,” says Mr Credland. “We were approached by Randall Parker Foods to source lambs from the Gloucestershire area, which kickstarted the process.

“We aim to provide an efficient, low-cost marketing strategy for producers with high animal welfare standards.”

Based at Henry and Carol Dunn’s 202ha (500-acre) mixed farm, Upleadon Court, the collection centre is run on an entirely non-profit-making basis by the farmer members and operates twice a week in peak periods and once a week for the rest of the year.

“On average, the group puts through 700 lambs a week in spring and this year we have put through 250-350 hoggs a week from Christmas,” says Mr Dunn, who himself puts though more than 1000 lambs a year from his sheep enterprise of 700 ewes.

Steadily grown

This number has grown steadily from only selecting lambs to now sending hoggets and cull ewes away, too.

The relationship between May Hill Producers and Randall Parker Foods has grown, with the processors having recently secured a deal with Sainsbury’s to market lamb from the group under the “Cotswold Lamb” branding.

The growth of this enterprise is even more impressive considering the little advertising driving it. “We didn’t want to push things initially until we knew how many we could cope with and have relied on word of mouth. The results speak for themselves.

“Theoretically, producers can be in and out in 10 minutes, with lorries leaving at 8.30am to travel to Llanidloes abattoir. Animals are killed by lunchtime, minimising stress for both producer and livestock, with weight sheets faxed by 5pm,” says Mr Dunn. “We usually contact Randall Parker Foods on a Friday to let them know how many are going through the next week. Producers are also working hard to meet the weight range of 16 to 22kg deadweight, with 97% of lambs falling within this range. We do not have to deal with many overfat lambs and most are Rs or better.”

Furthermore, as a founding member of the NSA Marches region, Mr Dunn puts emphasis on training and educating members of the management aspects which can improve production efficiency. “We run several workshops throughout the winter and work with independent sheep consultant Lesley Stubbings and local vets to ensure our members have access to up-to-date information and advice.”

Weigh regularly

Something they have encouraged is for producers supplying lambs to the centre to weigh regularly, supplying scales to help with this. “We are looking to promote quality, profitable lamb production and to do this we need to push aspects such as flock health planning, feeding and breeding to our members,” adds Mr Dunn.

Looking to the future, Mr Credland is wary of expansion. “We wouldn’t want the group to get bigger without ensuring high standards can be maintained,” he says. “However, operating the same collecting system with cattle is an option.”

To some extent, expansion is limited to the number of producers in the catchment area, which has expanded from around Newent to as far as Ludlow in the north of the region to Bristol in the south, all still within sight of May Hill, the group’s namesake. Investment involved in setting up the enterprise initially was predominantly time, Mr Dunn says. “We bought pens and handling equipment from the now defunct Ledbury market. Our biggest expenditure was the tarmac road, required for biosecurity.”

For sheep producers wanting to learn more about the collection centre and May Hill Producer Group, there will be a chance to look round Upleadon Court at an open day on 12 May.

Hosted by Henry and Carol Dunn, the NSA Marches Region AGM will be held in conjunction with the open day, while a carcass grading demonstration, trade stands and numerous sources of advice for sheep producers will be on hand.

For more information contact Dy Webb at NSA on 01684 892 661 or email