19 January 2001

Base strategy for sheep on Kiwi attitudes

By Robert Davies

TIGHT management and co-operation are vital if UK sheep producers are to have a successful future.

Thats the conclusion of John Davies, who runs 1100 mainly Beulah ewes at Pentre, Merthyr Cynog in Powys, one of two Welsh flockmasters who won Welsh Sheep Strategy Millennium scholarships to visit New Zealand. He saw his trip as a chance to develop his linked interests in improving husbandry and marketing.

"It is essential that producers constantly seek out information that will help them do the job better," insists Mr Davies. "I have no time for farming leaders who moan and talk the industry down. We must help ourselves by producing what the market wants more efficiently. Doing nothing is not an option."

Share information

He is convinced that individual farmers must keep up to date with research and technology results, and be prepared to co-operate with each other by sharing practical information from their own units, including bottom line figures.

As a board member of the fledgling Welsh Meat Company he is also committed to co-operative marketing and farmer involvement in downstream processing.

"New Zealand farmers do enjoy climatic advantages, but they also have a business-like attitude that focuses on the bottom line. They feel part of the Monitor Farm Programme and are prepared to put their own figures on the table. Meetings concentrate on the physical and financial performance of the 26 monitor farms, which gives them benchmarks with which to compare their own figures, and on rapid and effective technology transfer.

"We have made a start here with the Welsh Sheep Strategys TIR farms, but we really need to get more up to speed so that we can drive down variable and fixed costs."

Within days of returning from his visit Mr Davies signed a contract to use senior ADAS consultant Ken Stebbings to get a clear independent picture of all the enterprises at Pentre. He plans to improve his flocks performance recording, but has already used existing figures to select a small nucleus flock of elite ewes to put to purchased high index rams.

A very good Charolais bull is already used on his 110 sucklers and he is also interested in trying composite cows to avoid the Holstein influence. To get a consistent product he is not averse to the idea of using a composite ewe that can cope with conditions on his LFA farm and the Eppynt military range on which he has grazing rights.

"Some New Zealand breeds such as the Coopworth now ban members from showing, and many top breeders sell 1000s of rams on records alone. Our top breeders need to provide more figures, and more farmers should use them when buying breeding stock."

Mr Davies believes that much of the success of New Zealand farming since subsidies ended in the mid-80s is based on tight management and co-operation. Independence, he says, is over-valued. Farmers have to work together to get better products and prices.

New Zealanders show that getting involved co-operatively pays dividends. They respect and value their customers and invest heavily in meeting their specifications. British farmers should see people like Tesco and Sainsburys as their customers and, where possible, build relationships with them.

&#8226 Find out how the second scholarship winner got on in next weeks issue. &#42

Tight management and co-operation are vital for a successful future for Welsh flocks, says John Davies.

NZ v UK SHEEP INDUSTRY

&#8226 Right attitude in NZ.

&#8226 Benchmarking commonplace.

&#8226 Co-operation vital.