17 May 1996

HOW A CHAMPION THINKS AND WORKS…

By Rebecca Austin

HIGH index rams and a lambing percentage of 191% helped Anne Looker and Jim Brook, her shepherd at the time, be crowned the Meat and Livestock Commissions 1995 Sheep Farmer of the Year.

The financial results, compiled by Signet, show the value of their achievement. What is not so clear from the figures is how they reached it.

The 300-head Mule-based flock is essentially viewed as a sideline alongside the 202ha (500 acres) of arable at Bearscroft Farm, Godmanchester, Cambs. Only 10ha (25 acres) of grass are available immediate to the farm; otherwise the flock relies on a nine-month annual grazing licence which provides access to 40.5ha (100 acres) of nearby common land.

This area, which is shared with a neighbouring beef producer who grazes 50 sucklers, is allowed no fertiliser, so stocking rates stand at 9.7 ewes a hectare over the summer. Overall, this drops to 8.4 ewes a hectare for both grass and forage.

A sound marketing policy and use of the latest technology, such as ultrasound scanning, sire reference rams and rationing, convert into excellent financial performance, says Stewart Hall, MLCs sheep strategy manager.

"High index rams produce top quality lambs which finish earlier," says Mrs Looker. "The Suffolk tups, with an average index of 175, cost about £300. That investment is soon recouped as carcass weights have increased by 1.5kg to 18kg since 1992, although fat levels have remained the same. This improvement is due to the high index tups."

And marketing stock through Eastern Quality Lamb provides a £3 a lamb premium. Farm Assured British Beef and Lamb (FABBL) membership secures a 30p a lamb bonus as well.

With harvest dominating the farming calendar, lambs leave the farm at the end of May and have all gone by the beginning of July. ABP, Wellingborough, Northants, receives them where carcasses weigh between 16kg to 19kg dw and classify R3L or better.

Creep, at 16% crude protein (CP) with added Deccox, is available ad lib but is used to add quality to grazing. Great emphasis is placed on correct rationing. Hay is analysed for its nutritional content and the ewes supplement designed around the result. This season they were fed 0.9kg of 20% CP, 12.9MJ/kg metabolisable energy concentrate over lambing, on average, with intakes varied according to number of lambs carried.

Mrs Looker sold 1.75 lambs to every ewe put to the ram. Compare this with a Signet eastern region average of 1.55. But she is modest of her teams achievements: "We start with the resources that are available and just go from there. &#42


Financial results (£ a ewe)

OutputVariable costs

Lamb sales and valuations76.58Ewe & lamb feed17.74

Wool1.75Grass & forage1.52

Subsidy18.60Vet & medicines6.72

Gross96.93Others3.77

Less replacements11.72

Total85.21Total29.75

Gross margin/forage a ha466.00Gross margin a ewe55.46

Anne Looker believes anyone involved with sheep needs to like and care for them properly if they want to succeed.