3 November 1995


SHEEP farming has one of two destinies. It can remain a subsidary enterprise, particularly on mixed farms where it is often a "mop-up" exercise for keeping pasture in order.

Returns are adequate – some years poor, other years good. But most would admit there is room for improvement.

The other option is a vigorous exploitation of modern technology. A growing band of producers are choosing this route – with some success. Their management decisions are made in the office, rather than the sheep shed, with an eye on the political scene as well as the weather.

For many, financial survival is the motivation and nothing will stand in their way. They have few alternatives to farming and that realisation has fuelled their desire to succeed.

UK shepherds are the second largest exporters of sheepmeat in the world, second only to New Zealand. They are also the most efficient in Europe. Those statistics speak volumes about the potential that is grazing our hills and valleys. We have a resource capable of meeting a majority of markets – if presented in the right package.

Achieving that demands adaptability and an ear to the ground. Account needs taking of GATT implications as they creep closer to the farm gate, quotas which continue to restrict expansion and environmental concerns. The latter are set to become intrinsically linked with hill farming through support payments.

For those who meet these challenges, the opportunities are far-reaching. Continuity of supply and quality carcasses are two pertinent messages shepherds can now exploit to expand their businesses.

However, the opportunity is open to all. Competition will be strong – so dont wait to see how your neighbour is doing before making your move!

New breeding techniques such as AI and oestrus synchronisation are established. Co-ordinating such tools with superior genetics will bring big benefits, which some have already demonstrated. May lambing will be the new fashion. And returns this season certainly recommend it as a way to garner richer pickings from the market.

Using tups with indexes that guarantee a profitable lamb crop is vital. The days of buying stock on looks alone are fast disappearing. While stockmanship will remain at the heart of a good enterprise, science can no longer be ignored. Its benefits are there for the taking. So why not let yourself experience some of its fruits?

The sheep which make up the UKs stratified system are a valuable resource suitable for a variety of markets.