RIGHT BLEND FOR HIS WELSH MOUNTAIN EWES
Welsh Mountain ewes on Welsh mountains is the traditional way to maintain the renowned scenery and keep family farms productive, says a native producer.
Robert Davies reports
CLWYD flockmaster Tecwyn Evans is convinced the best recipe for successful hill farming is a blend of tradition, innovation and landscape conservation.
At Plas Matw, Llanegrnw, tradition means keeping faith with Welsh Mountain ewes and tups on the top land, Welsh Half-breds on improved grazings, and Suffolk sires producing for the first main season lambs. At the same time Mr Evans is demonstrating willingness to change by lambing 100 Half-breds in March, paying premium prices for high lean index Suffolks, and using top quality Texels to get heavier, later lambs.
His commitment to landscape protection can be seen in extensive hard and softwood tree planting, including 1500 spruce seedlings he found dumped in a quarry, the replanting of more than 1500m (4900ft) of hedges, fencing off important wildlife habitats, and erecting buildings that harmonise with the countryside.
"The first priority must be to farm profitability, because without profits there will be no conservation," says Mr Evans. "The government must realise that this will be impossible if we lose upland grants and subsidies."
That principle accepted, Mr Evans is determined to run his business as efficiently as possible. On the familys original 32ha (80-acre) hill land on the Hiraethog Moors, and 30ha (75 acres) of open and enclosed hill lying above the 566m (1400ft) contour, there are 230 purebred Welsh Mountain ewes.
After a few crops these are drafted down to the 57ha (140 acres) of kinder land at Plas Matw, the farm they bought in 1955. Each year about 430 of these Welsh ewes are put to Border Leicester tups to produce Welsh Half-breds.
Traditionally, all of the resulting ewe lambs would have been sold at a breed association autumn sale. But land improvement and investment in buildings means that a flock of about 120 Half-breds can be retained to be put to a Suffolk for March lamb production, or a Texel for heavier, later lambs.
"Whatever type of ram I buy, the aim is to go for quality. Better conformation lambs make more at sale and soon repay the extra cost of a good ram."
But making sure he is getting good quality lambs, and collecting premiums on them, has become more difficult since his local abattoir closed. After a bad grading experience at another plant last season, he reverted to auction market selling. But it is a system he dislikes because of the time involved, the lottery of getting a good draw, and the lack of classification results.
He is also concerned about the publics perception of welfare standards at auctions. This makes him a keen supporter of current moves to establish a Welsh primestock marketing organisation with direct abattoir links that offer fair premiums for meeting carcass specifications.
His father sold Welsh Half-breds at the first society sale, and is still convinced that the cross is ideal for farms that lack good land. "She is an excellent mother and capable of producing a very good conformation lamb. Though slightly less prolific that the Mule she is smaller and I can keep three for every two Mules."
The farm also carries 42 mainly Welsh Black sucklers. Most are now put to a Charolais to calve between mid-April and mid-June. Male calves are weaned over winter as soon as they are too big to get through the entrance to the creep feed area in the shed, or by mid-February.
These are sold as strong stores after 15 months old. The weaned heifers are either sold as stores or finished at 450kg to 500kg, depending on the trade.
There were almost no buildings at Plas Matw when the Evans family bought it. With the aid of a £20 second-hand concrete mixer – which still works – and a lot of hard work, Mr Evans, who is a keen builder, has gradually erected a range of modern sheds.
Some of the biggest projects have involved outside builders, but he has done as much work as possible himself. The first big shed was a slatted-floor cattle shed, which cost more in the early 60s than the farm did in 1955.
The latest addition is the 24m x 15m (80ft x 50ft) sheep wintering shed. Though the shell was erected by a contractor, Mr Evans made all the internal fittings, including metal pen supports, timber dividers, gates and feed troughs. At the end of a lambing the lot can be dismantled for the shed to be cleaned mechanically.
Timber from some of the farms managed woodland was used. Tecwyn Evans see this as a good example of the benefit that can come from a mix of conservation and modern farming practice. *
In keeping with tradition, Clwyd producer Tecwyn Evans (inset) grazes Welsh Half-Breds and lambs on improved hill.