10 September 1999

COPING WITH THE CRISES

No one in the sheep industry can deny that it currently seems to lurch from one crisis to another. But, rather like an oil tanker, the industrys sheer size and momentum make it difficult to change course quickly.

Even so there is no doubt that producers are reacting to the current crisis of low finished prices and non-existent cull ewe values. Some are selling their flocks, others are returning to basics, stripping costs and simplifying systems.

Much has been made of cutting variable costs, but many producers cut theirs sometime ago.

However, overhead costs could be worth a look in the quest for better profitability. Many would argue that these are notoriously hard to cost, but they are a key area for cost savings.

In this Update, an in-depth examination of costs using a spreadsheet program – which includes overheads – on one Northants farm shows that early lambing is more profitable than spring lambing. It also shows that high rents are the key to poor main flock profitability – a factor that is not even considered in gross margins.

This may be food for thought for many producers who are considering how they can survive the current crisis.

But cost cutting is not the only concern tackled here. Worm control is examined in-depth by one leading sheep specialist, looking at how to effectively cut anthelmintic use and grow lambs faster by doing so.

And, for producers seeking to establish clover this autumn, we look at how one organic producer achieves good grass and clover swards to power his sheep grazing system.

The possibility of making money out of sheep might seem far-fetched at present, but as articles here prove, there is scope for improvement – or at least for change – on many farms.