1 September 2000

Its good – and profitable – to talk…thats TIRwatchword

By Robert Davies

IF THE organisers wanted a catch phrase to encapsulate the thinking behind the Welsh Sheep Strategys Technology Interaction Resource (TIR) farms it might be "its good and profitable to talk".

Management of the commercial beef and sheep units is based on improving margins by using best practice, the latest technology, and the ideas of neighbouring farmers who are members of community groups linked to each farm.

Management changes are made following regular and often heated discussions, which bring together the expertise of independent consultants and the experience and husbandry skills of local farmers. All changes will be the focus of three open days to be held on the three farms next week (see panel).

"The three TIR farmers are remarkably open about their businesses, and community group members are increasingly prepared to reveal information about their farms," says Gwyn Howells, MLCs Welsh industry development manager.

The largest community group has 25 members and the smallest 19. Farmers, auctioneers, bank managers, vets and feed salesmen are involved. Each TIR group has a part-time paid facilitator and links with Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research consultants.

Net margin boost

At Safn y Coed, Llangurig, Powys, Derek and Veronica Morgan are aiming to boost net margin by increasing production from forage, raising the reared lambing percentage from 90 to 100, more efficient lamb finishing, and better flock health.

Visitors will hear that the 55ha (135 acre) unit has common grazing rights for 475 ewes. This allows 570 ewes, 160 ewe lambs and 16 suckler cows to be carried. But the partners have decided to reduce the current flock with 500 Elan Valley type Welsh ewes.

Involvement with a breed improvement scheme is already providing higher index ewes and rams. Lower stocking and earlier finishing will mean more grass for flushing ewes to boost lamb production. This will be made possible by using a hardcore sacrifice area for winter feeding to rest in-bye land and applying spring fertiliser earlier.

Soil testing has indicated where targeted applications are needed to optimise the quality and quantity of forage for both grazing and conservation. Introduction of scanning will allow more precise use of supplementary feeding, while worm control is improving through faecal egg monitoring.

"The planned management changes have been proposed by the community group, Signet consultant Julie Jones who is our facilitator and IGER specialists," says Mr Morgan. "The pressures on farm businesses are so great that we have to take help from everyone who can contribute to management fine tuning."

farmers weekly readers who visit Llwyn y Brain, Adfa, Powys, and Cilgoed, Derwen, Clwyd, will already know about some of the management changes that are under way. John Yeomans, who runs the 148ha (220 acre) farm at Adfa with wife Sarah, is a Farmer Focus contributor in the livestock section, while Ceiriog and Mair Jones are featured every six weeks in the business sections Management Matters.

Grassland review

Mr Yeomans will explain that the initial TIR objectives are a grassland production review, and optimising stocking density. He also aims to minimise the impact of factors that can limit livestock production. Soil testing, blood testing, condition scoring and worm control based on faecal egg counts will all contribute.

Already low phosphate and lime indexes on some hill land have been corrected, docks, nettles and rushes have been attacked and boluses used to treat low levels of copper and selenium.

He plans to cut the amount of purchased feed used from 20 to 10% of the total by making better silage, and increase net margin by 10% a year.

Visitors will hear that gross margin/ewe has increased from £23.88 to £33.35, and the sheep enterprise gross margin from £308.71/ha (£124.93/acre) to £447.40/ha (£181.06/acre). Less dramatic improvement has been achieved with the 70 sucklers but gross margin/ha is up by £12.26/ha (£4.96/acre) to £444.18/ha (£179.75/acre).

The open day will also feature the use of high index, home bred Limousin bulls, high quality Beulah ewes and high index Charollais and Bluefaced Leicester tups.

Mr Jones also runs Beulah ewes and is involved in the breeds sire reference scheme. His 101ha (249 acre) unit carries 600 ewes, 250 ewe lambs and 60 Limousin cross sucklers.

He will tell visitors that he is in the process of reducing the size of his business to be able to operate with only occasional employed labour. Less feed is being bought in as a result of modifying fertiliser and weed control policies to improve sward productivity.

The 20 members of his community group have suggested that he does some surface reseeding and applied an additive to big bale silage. They proposed using Charollais rams on ewe lambs, and growing stubble turnips and kale.

The TIR Farms open days

Sept 5 11am-4pm: John and Sarah Yeomans, Llwyn y Brain, Adfa, Newtown, Powys.

Sept 6 2-5pm: Ceiriog and Mair Jones, Cilgoed, Derwen, Corwen, Clwyd.

Sept 7 2-5pm: Derek and Veronica Morgan, Safn y Coed, Llangurig, Powys.

The TIR Farms

open days

Sept 5 11am-4pm: John and Sarah Yeomans, Llwyn y Brain, Adfa, Newtown, Powys.

Sept 6 2-5pm: Ceiriog and Mair Jones, Cilgoed, Derwen, Corwen, Clwyd.

Sept 7 2-5pm: Derek and Veronica Morgan, Safn y Coed, Llangurig, Powys.

The sucklers at Llwyn y Brain will be on show on Sept 5, while Derek Morgan (inset) will demonstrate how hes increasing margins on Sept 7.